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Protecting Victims' Privacy Rights: The Use of Pseudonyms in Civil Law Suits

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2011
9 pages
This Violence Against Women Bulletin discusses the use of pseudonyms in civil law suits to protect victims' privacy rights.
This Violence Against Women Bulletin, from the National Crime Victim Law Institute, discusses the need for using pseudonyms in civil law suits in order to protect the privacy rights of victims. As is often the case, victims of crimes of a sexual nature who bring a civil suit against their perpetrators must use their real names when filing the suit. This situation can lead to the most intimate details of the crimes and the victims' lives being made available to the public, resulting in embarrassment to the victims and increased emotional harm that can affect all areas of their lives, including job and educational prospects. The authors of this paper propose the use of pseudonyms for these situations in order to protect the privacy rights of victims. Forcing victims to use their real names in civil law suits is believed by some to be a form of re-victimization at the hands of the justice process. In addition, this situation may force some victims to forgo their right to seek justice in order to protect their privacy. When determining whether a victim should use a pseudonym when filing a law suit, courts need to consider whether the victim's privacy considerations outweigh the presumption of openness in civil court proceedings. Several factors are considered when determining whether privacy outweighs openness. These factors vary by court jurisdiction but may include whether plaintiffs are required to disclose information of the "utmost intimacy" or that is "highly sensitive and of a personal nature," such as cases involving abortion, the well-being of children, and religion; cases involving the plaintiff's sexual history; claims of sexual harassment or discrimination; and discussions of the plaintiff's medical conditions. 35 references