JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — An appeals courts has reserved a lower courts decision and ruled that Missouri’s address confidentiality program clearly defends an enrollee’s right to maintain address confidentiality.
On Thursday, the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District overturned the trial court’s ruling, which allowed for the disclosure of the address of a participant of the Safe at Home program to an alleged abuser.
Safe at Home, a program administered by the Secretary of State’s Office, helps survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, human trafficking, stalking, or other crimes who fear future harm by providing a designated address to use when creating new public records. These services help keep survivors’ confidential addresses out of the hands of their assailants.
“Our judicial system affirmed this week that the standard for disclosing a survivor’s address remains high,” said Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt. “My office remains committed to ensuring survivors of domestic violence and assault maintain their privacy, and my office will continue to work every day to keep all Missouri families safe.”
During the 2018 session, Missouri Sen. Caleb Rowden and Rep. Sonya Anderson in combination with Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft worked on legislation to protect a Safe at Home participant’s address specifically in regard to custody rights court proceedings.
This is the first time that a Missouri appellate court has issued a ruling on the Safe at Home statutes since the program expanded tin 2018 to protect more victims.
The decision by the appellate court underscored the importance of not revealing the address of a Safe at Home participant, as well as the address of a child living with a parent. Before the reversal, the lower court’s ruling would have required parents in the Safe at Home program to choose between personal safety and custody of a child. The appellate court noted the absurdity of disclosing either address to alleged assailants, as the disclosure of an address of a minor child would have also been a disclosure of the parent’s address.
“This is an instance of the three branches of government working together cooperatively to reach the right conclusion. Our office worked closely with the Missouri legislature last year to strengthen the protections of Safe at Home, and the Attorney General’s office was quick to address this issue in court,” Ashcroft said. “It is gratifying to know the actions of the assistant attorneys general helped protect a Safe at Home participant and her child, and that the judicial system – in the end – made the right decision.”
“Victims of abuse and their children deserve to feel safe and to not have to worry that their address will be placed in the hands of someone who could hurt them. The appellate court ruling allows the Safe at Home Program to function as intended and to continue to protect victims from further abuse, and protect lives,” said Anderson. “I want to thank the court for helping us maintain our commitment to protecting survivors of domestic violence.”