Inform Victims of Court Protections
The best way for a victim to protect her privacy during court proceedings is to be proactive about ensuring confidentiality when seeking other services. An advocate should discuss these strategies with the victim and let the victim know that these efforts can be enhanced by options through her attorneys. The following actions can be shared with a victim:
- The victim can talk with the prosecutor about what evidence is turned over to the defense and request that photos from a sexual assault forensic exam, medical records, mental health records, and other records be protected, if possible. Although the defense will generally have a right to view these items during discovery, they may not have a right to copies.
- Should the defendant or defense lawyer (or prosecutor) attempt to ascertain confidential information in a criminal case, the victim can seek a protective order from the court, ask that private information be shared only under seal, or request in-camera review.
- Additional protections also may be available to limit media recordation and broadcast, to file under seal, to close courtrooms, to allow victims to testify via alternative methods, to address pro se defendants (defendants representing themselves without an attorney), and to limit examination and cross-examination.
- The police or prosecutor might be able to conceal the victim's identity by listing her name as a Jane Doe.
- In some states, a civil suit may be filed using a fictitious name (e.g., Jane Doe or John Doe) to redact the victim's identity from court filings, materials offered into evidence, and in open court.
- If the defense seeks information that is irrelevant or unlikely to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence in a civil case, the victim can file an objection, a motion for protective order, or a motion to quash an overly broad subpoena to limit the scope of inquiry.
- The victim can file a motion to seal sensitive records with a request for limitations on dissemination and copying.
- In a civil case, the victim can request destruction or return of any sensitive documents after the case has been closed, file a motion for a protective order and temporary restraining order to limit disclosures of sensitive materials, or request in-camera review of information.
In addition, rape shield statutes offer some protection for victims involved in court proceedings. If the victim fears that a sensitive past history of sexual conduct or abuse (that is irrelevant to the offenses charged) may be raised, the advocate may encourage the victim to contact an attorney to protect her interests. The prosecutor also has the ability to enforce the rape shield law, but the victim may have to reveal details about past sexual experiences to the prosecutor.