School navigation

National Crime Victim Law Institute

NCVLI Participates as Amicus Curiae in Sandusky Case

June 05, 2012

NCVLI is participating as amicus curiae, along with several other victims’ advocacy groups, to protect victim anonymity in the child sexual abuse case against Jerry Sandusky.  In this high profile case, the former Penn State football coach is accused of sexually abusing eight child-victims.  In the amicus brief, NCVLI and its partners argue that the victims should be allowed to proceed by pseudonym for the duration of the trial.  The brief states that the use of pseudonym is required as a means of protecting the victims’ fundamental rights of privacy, protection, and access to the courts.  Moreover, the use of pseudonyms does not violate the public’s right to access court records, the defendant’s right to confront his accuser, or the defendant’s right to public trial.

Child sexual abuse cases are vastly underreported, and this is due, at least in part, to fears about lost privacy and media exposure.  In the Sandusky case, these fears are especially warranted.  Victims in this case have already seen “non-identifying” details about their lives repeated endlessly in major media outlets, and one victim was forced out of school after such details allowed bullying classmates to identify him.  The use of pseudonyms throughout the trial will be a significant step toward ensuring that the victims do not experience any more violations of their basic rights to privacy and protection.  Using pseudonyms will also help to guarantee access to the criminal justice system, by removing a significant deterrent for victims who wish to participate.

It is often argued that the use of pseudonyms violates the public’s right to access court documents, the defendant’s right to confront his accusers, or the defendant’s right to a public trial.  Not only are the rights of the public and the defendant less than absolute, but each must be weighed against the victims’ privacy rights, and in this case that calculus requires protecting the victims through pseudonym.

Given the widespread media coverage of the Sandusky case, victims have a clear and pressing interest in attempting to maintain anonymity.  If they are compelled to disclose their names, they will suffer needless psychological trauma, their ability to make effective use of the criminal justice system will be damaged, and the courts will have violated their fundamental rights.  NCVLI hopes to prevent these problems by encouraging the court to allow the use of pseudonyms throughout the trial. 

To read the press release for the brief, click here.

 

Update:

On June 4th, 2012 the court ruled to deny victims the ability to testify under pseudonym in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania vs. Gerald A. Sandusky.  NCVLI, and its partners on the original amicus brief addressing this issue, wrote a statement about the effect of this decision on victims.  Click here to read this statement.