Location:
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE; PRIVACY;

OLR Research Report


CONFIDENTIALITY OF INFORMATION ON SAFE HOUSES

By: Michelle Kirby, Associate Analyst


QUESTION
Summarize state laws that require confidentiality of the location of houses that provide shelter to domestic violence and other victims (i.e. safe houses), including the penalties for illegally disclosing such location.

SUMMARY

At least 19 states, including Connecticut, have laws pertaining to the confidentiality of the location of safe houses. Generally, they limit any person, public agency, or private agency from disclosing any information that identifies the location or physical address of such houses. Eight of the states impose some sort of penalty for the illegal disclosure of the location. But Connecticut and 10 other states do not appear to impose any specific penalty for such disclosure. Penalties include fines and imprisonment. Also, in some cases, programs or shelters that violate the law may also lose their funding or certification.

Two federal acts, the Violence Against Women Act and the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act, impose penalties for disclosing information on the location of safe houses.

STATE LAWS ON SAFE HOUSES

The term “safe house” has several meanings. This report looks at safe houses that provide shelter to people in danger of abuse. These include domestic and family violence shelters, trafficking shelters, shelters for victims of dating violence or sexual assault, temporary emergency shelters, and transitional housing for victims and their dependents.

We found 19 states that treat information on the location of safe houses as confidential. These are Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming. Depending on the state, the law may:

1. prohibit disclosure of information related to safe house locations by anyone,

2. exempt this information from Freedom of Information (FOI) or other public information laws,

3. allow victims to refuse to disclose this information when giving testimony and for evidentiary purposes,

4. generally prohibit courts from ordering production or inspection of anything that would result in the disclosure of such information,

5. prohibit certain state agencies from disclosing or releasing this information unless required by law or with written authorization, or

6. require certain programs to provide assurances that the confidentiality of this information will be maintained.

Four states (California, Georgia, South Carolina, and Washington) classify the illegal disclosure of information about the location of a safe house as a misdemeanor that subjects a violator to a fine or imprisonment. Arizona imposes a civil penalty of up to $1,000.

In Iowa and Kentucky, a program that violates confidentiality and privacy requirements is subject to a loss of state funding, and shelters in Florida may face suspension or revocation of their certifications. Georgia subjects providers of telephone services and telephone directory services to prosecution for failing to file a plan showing how they will protect the confidentiality of the address or location of a shelter.

Table 1: State Laws Pertaining to the Disclosure of Safe House Locations

States

Safe House

Disclosure Law

Penalty

(citation)

Arizona

Shelters for Domestic Violence Victims

Prohibits knowingly or maliciously disclosing information that may reveal the location or address of a shelter

Civil penalty of up to $1,000

(Ariz. Rev. Stat. 36-3009)

California

Trafficking shelters

Prohibits any person from maliciously publishing, disseminating, or otherwise disclosing the location of a shelter or any place designated as a shelter, without the authorization of that shelter

Misdemeanor

(Cal. Penal Code 273.7)

 Domestic violence shelters

Connecticut

Shelter or transitional housing for domestic violence victims

Exempts from the Freedom of Information Act the disclosure by any public agency of any information that indicates the location of a shelter or transitional housing for victims of domestic violence

None specified

(CGS 8-360)

Florida

Domestic violence shelters

Prohibits (with some exceptions) the disclosure of a shelter's location

Suspension of shelter certification pending completion of a corrective action plan within six months, failure to do so results in revocation of certification

(Fla. Stat. Ann. 39.908

 

Fla. Admin. Code Ann. r. 65H-1.016 -1.017)

Georgia

Family violence shelters

Prohibits anyone from knowingly publishing, disseminating, or otherwise disclosing the location of a family violence shelter

Misdemeanor

(Ga. Code Ann. 19-13-23

Requires providers of telephone service and telephone directory services to file a plan showing how the confidentiality of the address or location of a shelter will be protected. Such filing or approval is not a defense to any action or prosecution.

Ga. Code Ann. 46-5-7)

 

Hawaii

Safe houses

Allows a victim to refuse to provide evidence that would identify the name, location, or telephone number of a safe house, abuse shelter, or other facility that provided temporary emergency shelter to him or her.

None specified

(Haw. Rev. Stat. 626-1)

 Abuse shelters

Iowa

Family violence shelters

Requires recipients of funds from the Shelter Assistance Fund program to develop and implement procedures to guarantee the confidentiality of records pertaining to the address or location of any family violence shelter

Loss of funding

(Iowa Admin. Code 265-41-10(16))

Prohibits the disclosure of such information except with written authorization of the shelter director

Kentucky

Domestic violence shelters

Prohibits the disclosure of any information that identifies a client of a domestic violence program except as provided by law

Loss of funding

(Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. 209A.070

Requires compliance with applicable federal and state laws, including those that prohibit the disclosure of shelter locations

922 Ky. Admin. Regs. 5:050)

 

Louisiana

Shelters for victims of domestic abuse or dating violence

Prohibits courts from ordering the production or inspection of any document or information that discloses the location of a shelter or other facility that provides services to victims of domestic abuse or dating violence

None specified

(La. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. VI, Ch. 10 652)

Mississippi

Domestic violence shelters

Exempts the street address or physical location of a shelter from public disclosure

None specified

(Miss. Code Ann. 93-21-109)

When a physical address is required, a post office box address for the domestic violence shelter is sufficient

New Jersey

Shelters for victims of domestic violence

Prohibits the disclosure of any information that may reveal the identity or location of anyone seeking shelter services, except with the person's consent or as required by law

None specified

(N.J. Stat. Ann. 30:14-13)

New York

Shelters for victims of domestic violence

Prohibits the disclosure of any information related to the general location or specific street address of a structure anticipated to house, or housing a residential program for, victims of domestic violence

None specified

(N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 18 452.10)

Allows disclosure only when authorized by a court or expressly permitted by statute or regulation

Oklahoma

Shelters for victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault

Prohibits the district court from ordering the disclosure of a domestic violence shelter, the location of any person seeking or receiving services, or any other confidential information

None specified

(Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 74 18p-3)

Pennsylvania

Domestic violence shelter

Prohibits the Public Welfare Department from disclosing whether an applicant, recipient, or family member is living in a domestic violence shelter and the location of the shelter, unless required by law or with written authorization

None specified

(55 Pa. Code 108.14)

South Carolina

Domestic violence shelters

Prohibits a person from maliciously or with criminal negligence publishing, disseminating, or otherwise disclosing the location of a shelter or another place designated as a shelter, without the authorization of the victim or the shelter

Misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment of up to three years, fine of up to $3,000, or both.

(S.C. Code Ann. 16-3-2080)

 Trafficking shelters

Tennessee

Family violence shelters

Prohibits compelling anyone to provide testimony of documentary evidence in a criminal, civil, or administrative proceeding that would identify the address or location of a shelter

None specified

(Tenn. Code. Ann. 71-6-208)

Domestic violence shelters

Texas

Family violence shelters

Exempts from the Texas public information statutes, information on the location or physical layout of a shelter for family violence or trafficking victims

None specified

(Tex. Gov't Code Ann. 552.138)

Victims of trafficking shelters

Washington

Domestic violence shelters or transitional housing facilities

Prohibits anyone from intentionally and maliciously releasing confidential information about the location of a domestic violence program for any purpose other than required by a court proceeding

Gross misdemeanor

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. 26.50.250)

Prohibits courts or administrative bodies from compelling any person or domestic violence program to disclose the name, address, or location of any shelter or transitional housing facility, in any civil or criminal case or in any administrative proceeding, except under limited circumstances

 

In any proceeding where the confidential name, address, or location of a domestic violence program is ordered to be disclosed, the court must order that (1) the parties be prohibited from further disseminating of the confidential information and (2) any portion of any records containing the information be sealed

Wyoming

Domestic violence and sexual assault shelters

Requires domestic violence and sexual assault shelter programs to provide assurances that the address or location of shelter facilities are not made public except with the written authorization of the person or persons responsible for operating the shelter

None specified

(Attg., VS, Wyo. Code R. Ch. 9 9)

FEDERAL LAWS ON SAFE HOUSES

The Violence Against Women Act and the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act award grants to states to help support the establishment, maintenance, and expansion of programs and projects to, among other things, provide immediate shelter for family, domestic, or dating violence victims and their dependents. Both acts prohibit grant recipients from disclosing the address or location of any shelter that maintains a confidential location, unless the person responsible for operating the shelter gives written authorization. Failure to follow the acts' universal grant conditions regarding victim confidentiality and privacy could result in a loss of funding (42 USCA 10401, 10406).

MK:ts