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Message From the DirectorAbout This GuideResources
Publication Date: April 2009
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Confidentiality Breaches

Confidentiality breaches are violations of the obligation to keep information private. Nevertheless, people—including victims' family members, service providers, and other professionals—frequently believe that sharing information is necessary to help the victim and to keep the community safe. However, they generally fail to understand the effects that sharing information may have on the victim in her community, home, school, and work environment. When information is shared, victims can and often do experience at least one of the following: discrimination, eviction, job loss, harassment, threats, injury, or death.8 Thus, with the exception of legally mandated information, make every effort to ensure that information is shared only with the victim's fully informed consent and at the victim's request.

The subpoena (a court order that demands records or testimony be produced in a civil or criminal proceeding) is probably the most commonly identified threat to confidential communications between victim and advocate. However, everyday actions (such as a slip of the tongue or careless remark) can unintentionally disclose privileged information. Confidentiality breaches are more likely to occur when the sexual assault victim advocate and victim are not fully aware of the privacy rights of sexual assault victims and the steps that can be taken to protect those rights. Training can help advocates to recognize the importance of victim confidentiality and to identify means of protecting victim information.

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