Anyone in an abusive relationship who needs help can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline anytime at 800.799.SAFE (7233)

SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — Survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and other abuse can now hide their addresses in public records through a new state program launched Wednesday.

The Address Confidentiality Program is aimed at protecting survivors and help them live without fear of their abusers tracking them down.

“We want to offer survivors every opportunity to know they can be safe,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel told News 8 Wednesday during an interview in South Haven.

The program is nearly three years in the making. The Republican-led Legislature first approved it in 2020. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed it into law that December.

Nessel, whose office was charged with implementing the program, said altering the structure of the state’s public records involved technological changes plus coordination with other state agencies.

“It’s been a real process putting it together,” Nessel said.

She said abusers can find where their victims live through public records.

“This program can literally be the difference between life or death from people,” Nessel said. “It’s protecting people to make sure that people who don’t want to be found, that it’s a lot more difficult to find them.”

The relatively easy public access to residents’ addresses has made survivors “fearful of interactions with their government that can expose them,” Nessel said.

“That could mean things like enrolling their child in school, it can mean requesting government services that you’re eligible for, it can mean registering to vote,” Nessel said.

“(It’s) something so simple of getting a driver’s license or state ID and in doing so exposing yourself to somebody who wants to do harm to you,” Nessel continued. “Nobody should be in that situation, and we want to make sure no one is.”

The Address Confidentiality Program will hide addresses of survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, stalking or anyone else at risk of being threatened or physically harmed if their address is revealed. The applicant must be moving or planning to move, be at least 18 years old, or be an emancipated minor or a parent or guardian acting on their behalf, the attorney general’s office said.

Those accepted into the program will get a new designated address, which they can put down to get a driver’s license or register to vote. Survivors can also use the legal address for public schools, libraries and state benefits.

“They’ll be able to use that card for all kinds of purposes,” Nessel said. “It should be accepted for all kinds of government-related services.”

The attorney general’s office recommended that each adult in the survivor’s household take part in the program so someone doesn’t accidentally give out their address.

Nessel said it will also give survivors some peace of mind during emergencies: They can call 911 or make a police report without having their information revealed unknowingly.

“We want people to be able to have these interactions with their government but still feel safe,” she said.

The state is now taking applications, which can be found online. They’re expected to be reviewed within 30 days. Those accepted into the program will be connected with a certified advocate to walk them through the process. The trained advisors include former law enforcement professionals, domestic violence shelter workers and advocates.

“People aren’t going to be able to do this on their own,” Nessel said. “They have to go through one of these individuals who’s a certified trainer. It’s exactly for some of these reasons. We don’t want people to be more at risk because they didn’t enroll in this program properly.”

The state will also confidentially forward all eligible mail to a survivor’s real address, including first-class, certified and registered mail. The state cannot forward any third-class mail or packages. Nessel recommended using an alternate delivery location for shipments.

“For instance, if you still want to get Amazon deliveries — who doesn’t — there are other things you can do,” Nessel said. “There are other places you can have those goods sent so they don’t go right to your house.”

State and local governments must accept the address, but private companies are not required to by law. If businesses decline to accept the ID, Nessel said survivors should do their due diligence.

“If I provide you with my actual residential address, what happens to that information?” the attorney general said. “Do you share it with other third parties? Is it going to be accessible?”

The attorney general said domestic violence cases continue to rise around the state and many more cases are underreported. She cited ACP as one step to help stop a generational cycle.

“We need to make sure that abusers are held properly accountable and afterwards we need to make sure that victim knows they can remain protected,” Nessel said.