Domestic violence is a tragic issue that comes up in the lives of many people who experience violence while dating or during marriage. It can feel overwhelming to contemplate reporting incidents of violence and/or abuse as many victims believe the police are slow to investigate and even slower to push prosecutors to file charges. Law enforcement and local prosecutors in central Florida are trying to change that perception among victims, and recent statistics show the number of cases prosecutors pursued increased by 22 percent between 2012 and 2014. This number is not necessarily reflective of a sharp increase in domestic violence incidents, although the rate of domestic violence did increase by 1.7 percent in part of the state, but shows a greater effort by law enforcement and prosecutors to investigate and bring to trial accused perpetrators. An article in the Orlando Sentinel recently reported on these numbers and looked at the plan of state prosecutor for Orange-Osceola Counties to increase the number of staff handling these cases if more funding is granted by the state legislature. Another aspect of domestic violence that prevents many victims from contacting the police is the fear the abuser will come back and be even more violent. Florida, recognizing the validity of this fear, has a program to keep information confidential that relates to the location of a domestic violence victim.
The Florida Attorney General runs a program that withholds the addresses of domestic violence victims from public records so the abuser cannot easily locate them. The Attorney General’s Office provides a substitute address for relocated victims and becomes the legal agent to receive the victim’s mail. It should be noted the state does not assist victims with relocation. They must do so on their own. In order to participate in the program, an application must be submitted to the Attorney General’s office by the adult victim or a parent/guardian if the victim is a minor. Once someone is accepted into the program, they receive certification as a participant for four years unless the participant requests removal or the state cancels certification before the four-year period expires. The application must include a sworn statement that he/she is a victim of domestic violence and fears for his/her safety and a statement that disclosing the applicant’s address will increase the likelihood of future domestic violence. Applicants who provide false information or falsely claim disclosing their address would endanger them could be found guilty of a second degree misdemeanor. Further, anyone who fraudulently tries to obtain a participant’s address or enters the program to evade criminal prosecution could be guilty of a third degree felony.
While there is no cost to become a certified participant in the address confidentiality program, there a number of reasons the state can cancel the certification. These reasons include:
- the participant changes his/her name;
- the participant fails to give the Attorney General 14 days prior notice of an address change;
- if the participant’s mail is returned to the Attorney General or stamped as undeliverable; or
- the participant applied using false information.
Contact a Lawyer
Even a single incident of domestic violence needs to be reported and steps taken to prevent further abuse. Protecting yourself and your family is of the utmost importance, and working with an attorney familiar with domestic violence issues can help to guide you the legal process so your abuser cannot hurt you again. Stok Kon + Braverman, in Fort Lauderdale and Boynton Beach offer free confidential consultations for all new clients. Contact us to schedule a meeting.