The United States federal government has laws which apply to victims’ rights for federal crimes. All states in the U.S. have adopted similar laws. Although these laws may vary somewhat from state to state, many of them are substantially similar to the federal law, the Crime Victims’ Rights Act of 2004.
The rights included in this act are as follows:
- The right to protection, within reason, from the accused;
- The right to be notified of court proceedings, and of parole proceedings involving the accused;
- The right not to be kept out of a court proceeding, unless the court concludes that the victim’s testimony would be significantly changed by hearing the proceedings;
- The right to have their perspective heard at a proceeding in the district court related to the accused’s release, plea, sentencing, or any parole proceeding;
- The right, within reason, to speak with the Government’s attorney;
- The right to restitution from the accused;
- The right to proceedings that are free of unreasonable delay;
- The right to be treated with fairness and to have their privacy respected;
- The right to be informed, in a timely fashion, if the accused takes a plea bargain or prosecution is otherwise deferred; and
- The right to notice of the foregoing rights.
This bill of rights does give the victim the right to be reasonably protected from the accused. However, many state laws are not more explicit than this in the protections given to the victim. Where, then, does the question of victim anonymity come in? Which victims may remain anonymous under the law?
Victim of rape and other forms of sexual assault receive special protection under the law. States have adopted so-called rape shield laws to create these protections. In one sense, rape shield laws are laws that prevent the questioning of sexual assault victims from being questioned about their past sexual behavior, in an attempt to paint them as complicit in their own assault. However, the term may also refer to laws that prevent the public release of the victim’s identity.
The federal Violence Against Women Act created a rape shield law. This law both prevents questioning of victims about past sexual behaviour, and prevents the release of their identity. News stations typically will not reveal rape victims’ identities.
The protection of sexual assault victims’ identities is pretty specific, but laws preventing the release of the identity of victims of other crimes are less so. For these other victims, protections will be based upon the law of the state in which they live. Some states have passed Marsy’s laws. This type of law was first passed in California, and has since been adopted by a number of other states.
This law gives victims and their families numerous identity protection rights, including the right to prevent the accused from discovering their personal information. It can be extremely important to protect the victim’s identity, in order to prevent them from further harmed by the accused or by someone associated with the accused.
There are also laws which prevent the release of victim identity when the accused has not been taken into police custody, because this poses an obvious threat to the victim’s safety. Sometimes, people who are reporting sexual abuse or physical abuse of another person may also request anonymity.
Victims are often called to give testimony at the criminal proceedings, because the accused has the right to have them questioned. The victim may be able to use a fake name to protect their identity in such a case.
When the victim is a victim of homicide, their name is usually made public through the coroner’s office, and, subsequently, the media. The family will generally be notified before this happens.
It is very important for victims to know that they have rights. Even if they are limited, there are protections in place which can do much to increase a victim’s sense of safety.
In cases where a victim’s right to anonymity has been violated, they may be able to bring a lawsuit against whomever is responsible. This may include the police. This is even more true if the release of their identity has caused them to come to further harm. It is more likely that they will recover for physical damages than for emotional damages, which are harder to prove.
If you have been the victim of a crime, and are concerned that your identity in connection to the crime will be made public, you may want to get in touch with a criminal lawyer. The attorney will do what they are able to protect your safety, and represent you in any legal proceedings.