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National Crime Victim Law Institute

Featured Right: Privacy

November 19, 2012

“[P]rivacy is like oxygen; it is a pervasive, consistent need at every step of recovery. Within the context of the legal system, if a victim is without privacy, all other remedies are moot.”

Ilene Seidman & Susan Vickers, The Second Wave: An Agenda for the Next Thirty Years of Rape Law Reform, 38 Suffolk U. L. Rev. 467, 473 (2005).

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Often in the justice system, there is a misplaced focus on a victim’s private life – whether it’s a defense attorney seeking a victim’s confidential counseling records, the prosecution and the defense debating what aspects of a victim’s prior sexual activity are relevant to a case, or the court refusing to allow the use of a pseudonym. 

By its very nature crime is a violating experience.  Compounding such violation by prying open the private life of a victim - an invasion perpetrated by the very system to which the victim turned for help – can reinforce the message that the world isn’t safe. Because invasions of privacy can be incredibly damaging to victims, privacy is among the key rights that must be protected to prevent re-traumatizing victims. 

Nearly every day, NCVLI is fighting to protect victims’ privacy in cases across the country.  This summer, we filed an amicus curiae brief (friend of the court) in the Sandusky case, alongside numerous other victim services organizations, in an effort to protect the privacy of the victims, who wished to proceed by pseudonym in this high profile case.  Last spring we fought to ensure that the defense didn’t gain access to the computer, journal, and Internet search records of an Oregon victim of a brutal sexual assault.  Most recently we worked with an attorney in California to quash a subpoena for the Facebook records of an adolescent sexual assault victim.  These are just a handful of the many cases where victims are facing privacy invasions.

In some states the right to privacy for victims is an explicit, stand alone right; other times it is listed alongside broad rights such as the rights to dignity, fairness, and respect;  and in still other places the right to privacy is found in other protections provided by law such as rape shield laws and the right to have one’s contact information protected. Regardless of how the right is articulated, the right to privacy is a victim’s right to keep his or her private information out of the spotlight and to keep the focus of a case where it belongs – on defendant’s conduct.  We are committed to continuing to push courts to broadly interpret this right so that victims can navigate a safe and empowering justice system.

 

To request legal technical assistance related to a victim’s right to privacy or another victims’ rights issue, click here.