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RCASA Sundays with Case Management: Victim’s Privacy, Fair Game?

In Case Management, Legal Advocacy, Sexual Assault Awareness, Systems Advocacy on December 12, 2010 at 8:00 am

Hello everyone… Happy Holidays.

Well, it has been a rough week.  Anytime you have court back to back it is tough but I guess I shouldn’t really complain.  I was in court this week and I got to thinking.  Does anyone really know how difficult it is for victims?  I mean, you might think you do, but if you haven’t been a victim or you haven’t been on the front line, do you really know?  I find if funny that when ever I tell people what I do they kind of gasp or sigh and say Wow, that must be really hard…or say I don’t know how you do that.  Well, I got to thinking about it as I sat in the courtroom during one client testimony.  A testimony that she has given for the I don’t know how many-ith time.  She did a great job and it ended with a conviction, but really how many times does one want to repeat their tragedy?  Have you really thought about what it means to stand up in front of a bunch of strangers and revisit a sexual assault…a molestation…a rape?  To have your name and picture spewed all over the news…because it’s public record?  I really got to thinking about that this weekend. 

We have become so sensationalized as nation; it seems as though we clamor for it.  Is there a difference between watching to stay informed vs. feeding the beast that is sensationalized media?

I found the following information at The National Center for Victims of Crime:

Overview

Many states have laws to protect the confidentiality of victims of crime. Most of these laws relate to specific groups of victims: sexual assault victims, domestic violence victims, abused or neglected elderly or disabled adults, missing persons, hate crime victims, and child victims. Confidentiality laws exist to encourage the reporting of offenses, and to prevent the re-victimization of the crime victim through publicity, unwarranted intrusion upon the victim’s privacy, and insensitive treatment by the media. (All statutes discussed in this summary are current through 1992 unless otherwise indicated. Source: National Center for Victims of Crime, Legislative Database.)

State Statutes

States may restrict the release of the name or other identifying information about the victim. More common is the confidentiality of the victim’s address or phone number. Laws also exist to protect financial, medical, employment and other records. States have laws regarding the release of information by courts, law enforcement, medical facilities, social service agencies and other government agencies. Often, government funding for victim services such as rape crisis centers or domestic abuse shelters is conditioned on the maintenance of the confidentiality of their clients. There are state laws that prohibit the media from publication or broadcast of a victim’s identity, photo, address or similar identifying information. South Dakota establishes a civil action for damages for publicizing or broadcasting the name, picture, address or identification of any child victim or other person involved in a child abuse proceeding. In contrast, Pennsylvania’s law only states that the legislature “urges the news media to use restraint” in revealing the identity or address of child victims. Those laws provide the battleground between a victim’s right to privacy and the First Amendment right to freedom of the press, and are often the subject of legal battles. (For instance, the U.S. Supreme Court, in The Florida Star v. B.J.F., 57 U.S.L.W. 4816 (S.Ct. 1989), held it was a violation of the First Amendment to allow a rape victim to recover money damages where her name was published in violation of state law.)

Privacy Rights of Sexual Assault Victims

In many states, the identity and the address of a victim of sexual assault is confidential. Many states prohibit the publication of such information. These laws exist in part to encourage the reporting of an offense which has historically carried much stigma to the victim. States such as Alaska provide that a sexual assault victim will be referred to in all public court records by her initials. In Texas, the victim is given a pseudonym on request to the court (although the victim’s name is still released to the defendant and the defense attorney). Thereafter, the victim may not be required to disclose her or his name, address or phone number. In West Virginia, the identity of a sexual assault victim may not be released prior to an indictment. After indictment, a minor victim may still have his or her identity protected upon request to the court. Nevada law creates a civil action for damages for the disclosure of confidential information regarding a sexual assault victim.

So why am I telling you this you might ask… Well, I want you to think how this may impact you.  If you were a victim want would you want?  As always, I am suggesting that you make a difference for the cause.  Get involved, what does it mean to have privacy and how can we get it for victims.  First, find out what is going on in your state.  Talk to your local sexual assault agency and ask them how they handle confidentiality or how they see it handled when they advocate for victims.  Then go out and get the word out that this is important.  Look to your local legislators to make it important!  Go to your legislator…talk to them and let them know that this is one thing that is important to you!   Call or write your local media and ask them what their policy is.  Let them know that victim confidentiality is important to you and your community and ask how they plan to support you in that belief!  Be BOLD!

We want victims to be heard….we want them to heal….we want victims to heal in a way that helps not hurts…not in a way that forces them to face a trauma they aren’t ready to face.   Let’s work together to ensure that victims receive the respect and the privacy that was taken from them when  they were first victimized! 

Thank you all for reading and see you next Sunday…

Before I go, I am going to continue the plug calling  for submissions…  WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!!!

RCASA is seeking submissions of survivor art, poetry, stories, etc. to feature in our new Saturday blog: RCASA’s Survivor Saturday. Work will be reviewed and selected by RCASA staff. The first submission selected will be posted on January 8, 2011. Please submit work to survivors@rcasa.org.

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