Most domestic violence victims won’t need the program, but for those who do, it could be a lifesaver.

AUGUSTA – After a protection-from-abuse order didn’t slow him down, after being beaten so badly she needed hospital care, a woman and her children recently fled another state and came to Maine.

She ended up at the Ellsworth domestic violence shelter and was afraid he would find her again, said Edith Moore, administrator of the Next Step program there.

The shelter helped her keep her new address secret through a new program officially announced Thursday. The Address Confidentiality Program will allow survivors of domestic abuse, sexual assault and stalking to use a confidential address – unrelated to their actual address – when registering their car, enrolling their children in school, signing up for health care and so on.

Until now, addresses required on all kinds of forms have given abusers a way to locate their victims.

“The major thing this does is create a seamless package for victims who need to hide where they are,” said Chris Fenno, director of the Abused Women’s Advocacy Project in Auburn. Victims have been able to hide new addresses from state license registrations and court records, “but the hard thing has been mail,” Fenno said. “This gives the victim a confidential address.”

Most domestic abuse survivors won’t need the program, Fenno said, but for those who do “it will be a lifesaver.”

People accepted into the ACP program will be given an Augusta postal address they can use, Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky said during a press conference Thursday. Mail will be received by the State Government Postal System in Augusta, then forwarded to confidential addresses. He added that 17 other states have similar programs.

One way abusers track their victims when they move is through the schools, Moore said, by asking the old school where the children’s transcripts were sent.

Another way is through health insurance forms, Fenno said. In divorce or separation cases where the abuser is required to provide health care for the children, addresses are often listed on forms.

In such cases and others, the new program will shield a victim’s actual address.

According to statistics released earlier this week the need for the program is there, said Gwadosky. In 2003 there were 5,364 reported cases in Maine, an 11.4 percent increase over 2002.

All of the costs are being absorbed by the Secretary of State’s Office and will be secure from future budget cuts, Gwadosky said. Asked what the program cost, Gwadosky said he did not have that figure.

Much has been done to help victims, but this is one way victims can empower themselves, said former House Speaker Mike Saxl, D-Portland, who sponsored the idea several years ago. He recalled a woman who came to him years ago asking for stronger laws. Despite moving frequently, her abuser tracked her down and finally killed himself on her doorstep, Saxl said.

Before he did “she’d been through three states. She moved four times within Maine. Her perpetrator followed her each stage of the way,” Saxl said.

With this program, perpetrators will be less able to find their victims, he said. “It’s high time we had it.”

The new program is already working, Moore said. The client she spoke of is relieved she does not have to give out her address, and is receiving mail through the program. The mail she has gotten has included hospital bills from injuries he inflicted on her. “Life isn’t fair,” Moore said.

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