In order to protect victims of crime, the federal and most jurisdictions have enacted laws that prevent a victim’s identity and personal information from being made public. Under certain circumstances, aspects of a victim’s personal history may also be kept out of court.
Whenever an individual calls the police, it is standard procedure to take their name. If it is not given, law enforcement will use other methods to find out the identity of the caller. Even though a victim’s name is in the police report, the police are able to remove the name before giving the report to the prosecution—thus protecting the victim’s identity from public record.
Who Can Remain Anonymous?
Victims of rape and sexual assault can remain anonymous to the public. In 1994, the Violence Against Women Act created a federal rape shield law that not only protects the identity of victims, but also the victim’s prior and subsequent sexual history and conduct from being introduced as evidence in court.
Other crime victims may also remain anonymous, and those laws are dependent on the state. Victims of crimes where the perpetrator is still at large, and those who are reporting sexual abuse or physical abuse of another person may also request anonymity.
Are There Any Limitations to Anonymity?
Since a defendant has the right to cross-examine his or her accuser, the victim is often called upon to testify. It is not uncommon for the court to use an pseudonym for a victim, such as “Jane Doe” or “John Doe” especially if the victim requests anonymity.
Though media outlets reserve the right to free speech, they will generally continue to not publicize the identity of rape victims as a matter of courtesy.
In the case of homicide, the name of the victim is made public through the coroner’s office. Law enforcement will contact the family of the decedent before publicly identifying a victim, and the media typically refrains from doing the same until the family has been notified.
Is There Anything Else Victims of Crime Should Keep in Mind?
There are many reasons a victim will want to remain anonymous. Whether it’s due to issues with safety or simply embarrassed, it’s important that victims of crime know that there are protections for those who have been discriminated due to being a victim of crime.
Victims of spousal abuse may be afraid of losing their home if their landlord finds out the police come over frequently to address the violence. Students may be afraid of their school not adequately protecting them from an abuser or attacker. In both cases, the legal system exists to protect victims from losing their home or being exposed to dangers in a place like school.
Do I Need an Attorney?
If you are the victim of a crime and are concerned about your identity being made public, contact a criminal lawyer in your area immediately. An experienced attorney can help protect your identity and work as an advocate on your behalf.