April 23, 2007
Domestic violence survivors often require more privacy and safety considerations whether they have relocated and are in hiding or just want to minimize the information that abusers can gather about them. There are many areas that require a survivor's attention to ensure his or her privacy. This page explores some of those privacy risks and what survivors can do.
Address Confidentiality Programs (ACPs)
A key aspect for maximizing privacy for domestic violence survivors is to not give out their home addresses. Every time they are asked for their address, whether it is to vote in an election, to file a court petition, or to set up utilities in a new home, there is the potential that the abuser will get a hold of that information, which could increase safety risks. Some states offer address confidentiality programs (ACPs), which is a substitute address for participants to use. These programs are administered by states and enable victims of domestic violence (and sometimes victims of sexual assault and/or stalking) to conceal their location and minimize the ability of an abuser to find them. Participants can use this substitute address instead of their home address when receiving mail, opening bank accounts, or when asked for by state agencies, including for voting records, court filings, obtaining a driver's license, enrolling in public schools, obtaining child support, and other governmental functions that require an address. These programs are critical for survivors to maintain the privacy of their home address because most government agency records are public records and can be available and searchable online. See the Address Confidentiality Program chart below for a list of states that have address confidentiality programs.
Voter Confidentiality Programs
Voting in an election is a right that Americans greatly value and one that a survivor of abuse should not have to forego in order to keep her/his address confidential. However, voter registration is a public record and can be accessed by almost anyone. Some states limit access to their voter records to political parties or candidates, journalists, and academics, but other states do not restrict access at all. In fact, a study conducted by The California Voter Foundation indicates that 22 states allow unrestricted access to voter records. Confidential voter listing programs only provide confidentiality on election-related public records.
The following chart, created by the Boston Greater Legal Services, show which states offer these programs. It also includes information from the few states that provide additional location protections for victims, such as confidential sign-ups for utilities or confidential registration with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Created by The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, this pamphlet provides survivors and advocates with recommendations for protecting and enhancing safety while exercising the right to vote.
In addition to protecting location information through one of the above programs, there are many steps survivors can take to minimize the risk of personal information being shared. Online spaces have many risks to privacy. Survivors can maximize their privacy by using being careful about what they share, strategic in creating accounts (not using your real name in your email or username), and using privacy settings in social networks. Furthermore understanding how information about individuals gets shared online and how information offline gets online will help survivors strategize.
Browsing the web safely and privately is concern for many people. However, you can take steps to prevent sensitive and personal information from making its rounds on the Web. This one page handout has privacy & safety tips about email, passwords, social networks, online accounts, web browsing and more.
Victims of domestic violence, sexual violence and stalking have complex safety risks and concerns when their personal information is on the Internet. This handout explains how information gets online, how it gets shared, and what you can do to limit the information that is shared about you.
Social media is one area in which many information about survivors can be shared—whether it is by the survivor or friends and family of the survivor. Using privacy settings can help ensure that survivors can still use these spaces while increasing privacy.
The Internet is full of opportunities for us to share things about ourselves, whether it's a blog entry, updating our Facebook or MySpace status, or posting videos on sites like YouTube or Metacafe. Some people may not mind that the things they share about themselves can be viewed by anyone, but other people may be more concerned. For those who want to be more protective of their online information, here are some questions to consider when posting content online.
This guide addresses privacy on Facebook, as well as safety tips and options for when someone is misusing the site to harass, monitor, threaten, or stalk. It refers back to Facebook's Help Center in several places for more detailed information on settings and features – a site that all Facebook users should check out.
Other Privacy Tips
In addition to online spaces, there are many things that survivors can do to maximize their privacy. Consider using a virtual phone number and give out that phone number and turn the geotagging (location) feature off on smartphones.
Cell phones are integrated into our lives in a way that allows us, and potentially others, access to a lot of personal information, including our activities, social circles, and even location. The following information will help you assess whether you think your activities and location are being monitored through your cell phone and offer strategies to consider that can help maximize your safety needs.
Visit the Safety Net Page to see more information and privacy tips about relocation, technology, social networking.