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OTTUMWA — Surviving domestic or sexual abuse means dealing with issues most people never consider. Your life changes, down to the tiniest details. Basic things, like getting mail and even voting, become hurdles.

The Iowa Safe at Home program can help.

The program is administered by the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, and there’s a good reason for that. Voting records fall under the office’s responsibilities. They’re also public record. For someone who fled abuse wants to keep an abuser from finding them, that’s a problem.

Safe at Home is “an address confidentiality program.” Those in it can keep their addresses out of public records, receive mail without having their residential address used, and even handle voting.

Leslie Ruggles, a communications coordinator for Crisis Intervention Services in Ottumwa, said working with officials is a standard part of what her office does.

“We provide services in 12 counties. We provide sexual assault services, temporary housing services and domestic assault services,” she said. That includes a 24-bed emergency shelter and assistance for longer-term housing.

What begins with a call to the organization’s hotline can cover a range of assistance, depending on what the person needs. If they want someone with them to make a police report, Ruggles said her office will do that. If they need support through legal proceedings, that’s available. And they’ll meet victims anywhere they feel safe.

“If you don’t feel safe, we will get you to a safe location,” she said.

Pate said his Thursday visit to Ottumwa was designed to draw attention to the Safe at Home program and the services available through the crisis center. He called abuse “an equal opportunity crime.” About 3,000 people were charged with physical or sexual abuse in Iowa last year, and twice that many cases were reported.

“There is no typical victim,” he said. “There is no profile.”

Awareness of the services is key. Pate said it’s not just about reaching victims. Friends, family and coworkers can help by being aware of what is available and pointing people who need help toward those options.

Ruggles echoed the idea. “We just encourage people to put the hotlines in their phones,” she said. Since most people keep their cell phones with them, it’s easy, quick access when needed.


Matt Milner currently serves as the Courier's Managing Editor. Milner is a trained weather spotter and is usually outside if there are storms. He joined the Courier in 2002.