Publication Date: April 2009
Decrease the Spread of Information
You can support victims' right to privacy by telling victims how to decrease the spread of their information. For example, the victim can
- Refrain from sharing details about injuries sustained or causes of conditions with anyoneincluding doctors, nurses, police, prosecutors, friends, family, coworkers, social workers, or counselorsunless absolutely necessary for a specific purpose (e.g., obtaining vital services, such as emergency medical care, and assisting law enforcement in their investigation of the crime). Once an advocate has discussed service options with the victim and the victim has decided which services she desires, an advocate should help the victim identify information that is essential to those services. For example, a victim experiencing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may wish to seek leave from employment under the Family Medical Leave Act. Her employer may ask for a medical certification, which must include a description of the serious health condition; however, the cause of the condition is not required.
- Keep in mind that having evidence collected does not necessarily mean that the victim must report the crime to the police. As of January 5, 2009, under STOP (Services, Training, Officers, and Prosecutors) VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) formula grants, victims can receive a forensic medical exam9 and have it paid for by the state/governmental entity, regardless of whether the victim cooperates with the criminal justice system or law enforcement. If a health care provider reports to law enforcement that they have treated a victim of sexual assault, the victim does not have to talk to law enforcement. The victim's advocate should discuss the available options and the potential consequences of those options with the victim. For example, any delay in the investigative process may affect the outcome of the case. In addition, because of the legislative and state changes, it is vital that advocates have the most up-to-date information about how their state or territory is adhering to their respective reporting laws.
- Refrain from sharing information about seeing a therapist with police, medical care providers, and others.
- Ensure that any medical information that will be shared is necessary, specific, and limited (if the victim decides to sign a waiver).
- Tell the victim's providers (e.g., physician, therapist, insurance company, pharmacist) not to release the victim's information without the individual's explicit consent.
- Ask the victim's providers to notify the victim if her medical records are ever subpoenaed and by whom they are subpoenaed. Ask the prosecutor to immediately notify the victim if the prosecutor is aware of any subpoenas for the victim's records.
- Write to the victim's providers to request that they communicate with the victim in a way that maintains the victim's right to anonymity. For example, the victim can request that mailings be sent in a closed envelope instead of by postcard, that mail be sent to a post office box instead of a street address, or that calls be placed to her home instead of her work (or vice versa).
- Ask the victim's providers to restrict how her information is used or disclosed to others in the health care business.