For any victim service agency or community organization working with survivors of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, maintaining confidentiality is paramount to preserving the safety, privacy, and trust of those seeking services. When survivors seek services, they take huge personal risks. If an abuser should discover that a victim is seeking services, the abuse could increase in frequency and severity. There can also be potential societal and personal repercussions from being identified as a victim, such as housing or job discrimination. Even without these concerns, the experiences of any survivor are theirs and they should be in complete control over their privacy and who knows their story. Minimizing the risks to victims is an integral part of providing services to survivors.
Because survivor privacy is so critical to safety, several federal laws include privacy and confidentiality provisions and most states prohibit the disclosure of victim information. Victim service providers in the United States who are receiving federal funds have some of the strongest confidentiality obligations that exist in the country. This toolkit is designed to provide details to providers about those obligations and how to navigate the complexities that arise when collaborating with other agencies and using technologies.
Who Can Use This Toolkit?
This toolkit was created to assist non-profit victim service organizations and programs, co-located partnerships, coordinated community response teams, and innovative partnerships of victim service providers working to address domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. This toolkit is meant to help providers and agencies understand and follow the confidentiality obligations mandated by the funding they receive through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA), Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), and related state and federal privacy laws.
This section provides an overview on questions that commonly come up concerning confidentiality releases, federal laws on confidentiality, the collection and maintenance of survivor data, when and how survivor information should be shared, and more.
TIP SHEETS & CHARTS
The following handouts were created to provide safety and confidentiality tips as well as information that highlight considerations about technology use by agencies and collaborations serving victims. These are meant to help your agency navigate complex and nuanced topics.
Summary Chart of U.S. State & Territorial Laws Related to Advocate Confidentiality & Privilege (best viewed in Google Chrome)
These template forms, policies, and agreements have been created for non-profit victim service agencies, advocates, and partnerships to adapt and use when they provide services to survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. Programs can adapt these templates to meet the needs of their organization; however, please keep in mind that changes should be minimal and the purpose or intent of the template should not be altered.
- First enacted in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act was the first U.S. federal legislation acknowledging domestic violence and sexual assault as crimes, and provided federal resources to encourage community-coordinated responses. VAWA’s provisions were expanded and clarified in 2000, 2005, and 2013. Starting with VAWA 2005, the legislation began specifying grantee’ obligations to survivor privacy and confidentiality.
- Full statute, enacted as Public Law 113-4 on March 7, 2016 (Hyperlink: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-113s47es/pdf/BILLS-113s47es.pdf)
- Confidentiality provisions and Acknowledgement of Notice of Statutory Requirement (Hyperlink: https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/ovw/legacy/2013/09/24/conf-acknowledgement.pdf)
- The Family Violence Prevention Services Act (FVPSA), first authorized in 1984, is the only federal funding source dedicated directly to domestic violence shelters and programs.
- Full Statutory Language (Hyperlink : http://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?path=/prelim@title42/chapter110&edition=prelim)
- The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act) is the landmark federal law that requires colleges and universities across the United States to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses.
- Summary of Jeanne Clery Act (hyperlink: http://clerycenter.org/summary-jeanne-clery-act)
- Full Statutory Language (http://clerycenter.org/jeanne-clery-act)
- The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act provides federal protections for personal health information held by covered entities and gives patients an array of rights with respect to that information.
- Information on patient rights and covered entities(hyperlink: http://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/)
- Full Statutory Language (http://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/ocr/privacy/hipaa/administrative/combined/hipaa-simplification-201303.pdf)
- The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the Department of Education.
- FAQ’s and information for parents, students, and school officials (hyperlink: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html)
- Full Statutory Language (hyperlink: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/20/1232g)