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Privacy issues concern crime victims throughout the criminal justice process. Some victims, afraid of harassment or retaliation by offenders, may worry that who they are and where they live may be readily available through public records or court testimony. Fear about who might have access to victim impact statements, presentence reports, and compensation files may result in restrained responses and guarded participation by victims. Moreover, to cope with the complicated emotions that often accompany the physical injuries and trauma resulting from a crime, many victims turn to counseling, only to find that the personal thoughts they share may be disclosed during the trial. According to a report issued by the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) Violence Against Women Office (VAWO), the need to protect a crime victim’s confidential counseling communications is critical:

A successful prosecution depends on the cooperation of the crime victim. Yet, in many cases . . ., a woman who has been attacked frequently finds herself victimized a second time when her case goes to court. . . . In far too many cases, defense attorneys subpoena counseling records and call counselors as witnesses. The attorneys use the records to shift the court’s focus from the crime to the victim’s thoughts and comments regarding the emotionally devastating incident. Often, victims face the threat that their most intimate feelings will be disclosed in open court and become a matter of public record.1

Several state legislatures have responded by enacting laws intended to protect the privacy of communications between victims and their counselors or therapists.

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Privacy of Victims' Counseling Communications, Legal Series Bulletin #8
November 2002
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