Secretary of State Simon stops by Benson program

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Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, accompanied by his director of communications Ryan Furlong, met with Swift County Safe Avenues coordinator and Safe at Home application assistant Christine Thompson last Friday.

Safe at Home offers a secure space

For those who have suffered mental, physical, or sexual abuse escaping from the person who has harmed them can be a real challenge. That is especially true in small, rural communities.

But through the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State, the Safe at Home program offers victims a way to “disappear.”

Friday Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon met with Christine Thompson, coordinator for the Safe Avenues and Safe At Home program in Swift County.

Simon’s stop in Benson was part of a four-county swing through western Minnesota to meet with representatives from Safe Haven, a shelter and resource center that helps victims of domestic violence, representatives of the Safe at Home address confidentiality program, and with election officials to discuss replacing Minnesota’s aging election equipment. He had stops in Swift, Meeker, Kandiyohi, and Lac qui Parle counties.

These visits are an opportunity to hear from Minnesotans working with Safe at Home, which is designed to assist Minnesotans who wish to keep the location of their physical residence private for personal safety reasons, often because they are victims of domestic violence or stalking, Simon said.

Simon said his office doesn’t push the program on counties in the state, but offers his assistance if it is a good fit for them.

When a woman is enrolled in the Safe at Home program, her address becomes a Post Office box number at the Secretary of State’s office in St. Paul.

The harassment a person suffers can escalate when he or she blocks an abuser from a Facebook page and from a cellphone, Thompson told Simon. At that point, the abuser may start showing up in person. While an order for protection can work to keep a person away, it isn’t foolproof.

“A participant cannot be required to disclose their real address,” the program’s web site says. “This allows a program participant to go about his or her daily life without leaving traces of where they can typically be located, such as their residential address, a school address, or an employment address. This safety measure is an attempt to keep their aggressor from locating them.”

Small communities present special problems for women who are looking to escape abusers or stalkers because it is so easy to find out where they live, Thompson told Simon. If a person knows where they work, they can just follow them home or someone will see where they live and tell others. It is difficult not to be noticed in a small town.

They could find a home in another nearby city, but transportation is an issue if they have a job they have to get to, Thompson said.

Address confidentiality is important because it isn’t just a matter of keeping an abusive person away, there are other safety concerns as well. One of those concerns is about packages being sent to people who are under protection orders that could contain something dangerous or offensive.

Those enrolled in the Safe at Home program can get legal assistance through the Mid Minnesota Legal Aid. Thompson also makes herself available for people in the program if they have to go to civil court trial or if they are involved in a criminal case. While she has sat in the public seating area for these hearings, Simon told her that some judges will let the Safe at Home advocate sit with the client at the table in front of the bench.

It is important that people have legal representation, Simon told Thompson. If they don’t, lawyers for the other person can potentially fool them into bad arrangements.

He gave the example of a woman going to court for an order for protection without an attorney accompanying her while the other person was represented by legal counsel. That attorney simply says, “To avoid a lot of time, cost and fighting in court where lots of bad things can be said about both sides, lets just have both of you agree to orders for protection – you don’t see him and he doesn’t see you.” That sounds fairly reasonable. But what it does, Simon pointed out, is put an order for protection against the woman on her record when she had done nothing wrong.

The Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State can assist local application assistants in processing legal papers.

Secretary of State’s office provides great training for the program, Thompson said. Thompson has been at the Safe Avenues program for a year-and-a-half now.

She told Simon that victims often don’t see getting away from their abuser as a success when that person is someone they are involved with. The vast majority sees a success as being able to work out the problems and staying together, she said....


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Pictured: Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, accompanied by his director of communications Ryan Furlong, met with Swift County Safe Avenues coordinator and Safe at Home application assistant Christine Thompson last Friday.

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