Crime Victim Anonymity

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What is Crime Victim Anonymity?

Most states and the federal government have adopted laws which allow victims of crime to remain anonymous to the public, and to have certain parts of their personal history kept out of court, under certain circumstances.

Note that if a crime victim calls the police, the police will take down the name of the caller. Identifying the caller is standard police procedure and even if the victim fails to give his or her name, the police will use other means to identity the caller. The crime victim’s identity is protected though when the police remove the victim’s name from their report to the attorney general’s office.

Who Can Remain Anonymous?

These laws usually apply to victims of sexual assault. Under the Federal Rules of Evidence, any information about an alleged rape victim’s sexual history cannot be considered. This is based on the idea that the defense should not be able to paint the alleged victim in a negative light, since her past sexual history is not relevant to the question of whether or not she consented in one given case.

In some states, victims of certain crimes also enjoy a right to complete anonymity. This usually means that no court official can release the name of an alleged victim of rape or sexual assault to the public.

Victims of other types of crimes can report crimes anonymously. They can also remain anonymous if the perpetrator remains at large. Persons reporting physical or sexual abuse of another can also request anonymity. The police will typically grant such requests.

Are There Any Limitations to Anonymity?

When these laws were first passed, they often applied to media outlets, as well. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held these laws to be unconstitutional as applied to the media, on the grounds that they violate a reporters’ rights to free speech.

The identity of homicide victims is released to the public through the coroner’s office and is regarded as public information.

Victims who witness the crime firsthand can also be called on as witnesses. Once on the stand, the victim’s identity is public information. Criminal defendants have the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses. Since this is a constitutional right, judges often compel non-sexual assault or rape victims to testify in court.  

Do I Need an Attorney?

If you are the victim of a crime who wishes to remain anonymous, a lawyer can help you resist the order to testify in open court, protecting your identity.

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Last Modified: 03-12-2014 09:37 AM PDT

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