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Gehrke: What if Utah legislators cared about the safety of victims of sexual violence as much as their own?

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke

Who is more justified in having their home address protected? A victim of abuse, domestic violence, human trafficking, stalking or sexual assault? Or a state lawmaker seeking re-election?

Apparently, Utah legislators think it is them.

Last week, Rep. Stephanie Pitcher, D-Salt Lake City, who works in a county prosecutor’s office, proposed HB451, which would have created a state program to give those victims of violent crimes — overwhelmingly women — a proxy address, (like a P.O. Box) that she or he could use to receive mail or conduct most state business.

It’s really a no-brainer. Someone who is being stalked doesn’t necessarily want to have that home address out in the public domain. A rape victim might be more comfortable working with police if her assailant couldn’t easily find out where she lives. A woman escaping human trafficking probably wouldn’t want her trafficker to show up at her new home.

And experts have said that the first step toward getting a victim needed services or convincing them to cooperate with law enforcement is to make sure they feel safe.

In fact, Utah is one of just 11 states in the country that doesn’t have a program like this. Pitcher’s bill was modeled after the very successful program in Colorado and had the backing of the county prosecutors, the YWCA (which provides services to these women) and other groups.

So, of course, the Republicans on the House Health and Human Services Committee killed it.

Rep. Norm Thurston argued that non-profits could offer the same service — which might work for mail, but not when it comes to state agencies recognizing it for official business.

But what really did the bill in is a lawyer from the attorney general’s office (you know, the attorney general who has made human trafficking a top priority). That attorney, representing the Public Safety Department, told the committee it could violate the federal Real ID Act, which sets requirements for state identification, and that it could complicate police work.

When pressed, the state attorney couldn’t explain HOW the program would violate the Real ID Act or how 39 other states implemented programs without violating it. In fact, he acknowledged he hadn’t really studied the bill.

He also said that, hypothetically, it could make it difficult to locate a next of kin if a victim using a fake address is injured or killed. Actually, officers can get the address in minutes with an e-warrant in an emergency, or by sending a request to the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, which would have administered the program, if it wasn’t an emergency.

But police would not have unfettered access to the actual addresses of women in the protection program. “Don’t trust law enforcement?” asked Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield.

Pitcher (who, again, is a prosecutor) said that she has seen cases where police officers are perpetrators and use their position to improperly access information.

Ray conceded the bill is “99 percent there,” but rather than move it along and try to resolve his concerns, he voted with Thurston and four other Republicans on the committee to kill it and perhaps try again next year.

That’s bad enough. It’s more galling when you consider that the Legislature nearly unanimously approved a bill (it had one dissenting vote) that would allow a candidate to use a proxy address (like a P.O. Box) and phone number when he or she files to run for office.

And I’m not saying there isn’t cause for concern. We live in brutal political times and safety is a legitimate concern.

It would be nice, however, if they were as concerned about the safety of victims of horrific violent crimes as they are about their own.

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