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Orange County Case Raises Confidentiality Issues for Rape Victims

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Under current North Carolina law, records and counselors from rape crisis centers can be subpoenaed, making the information public record.(WRAL-TV5 News)
RALEIGH — People who call a rape crisis hotline probably assume their information will remain confidential. Most of the time, they are right. But under current North Carolina law, crisis centers' records and counselors can be subpoenaed.

A defense attorney in an Orange County rape case is trying to get the file of a victim from that area's rape crisis center. He believes the information could help clear his client.

TheNorth Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assaultplans to ask theGeneral Assemblyto change the law and add protection for victims in this situation.

"Frankly, I think it's wrong," says Amy Holloway, executive director of Interact, one of the largest support organizations for sexual assault victims in the state.

"When individuals come to us, they expect confidentiality," she says. "They're coming to be safe. They're coming in attempt to heal."

Holloway says the intake sheets her counselors use ask for very little specific information. Keeping it vague helps protect a victim if the file should end up in court.

"Often times, the defense that is used is to go after the character of the victim," she says. "It's not relevant in the least to the crime that was committed, and that needs to stop."

Many women agree, saying that if the information is not protected, victims will be afraid to seek help.

Karen Ruby shares those concerns.

"It should be the same guidelines as in any counseling setting. It should be confidential," she says.

Holloway says a change is needed.

"We really need to look at the law and change it, so that it does cover rape crisis centers and domestic violence programs that do serve as a safe place for people to come and talk about whatever they need to talk about," she says.

According to North Carolina law, some occupations can keep your private information from being public. Those professions include:
  • Physicians and psychologists (except in cases such as child abuse or neglect)
  • Clergy
  • School counselors
  • Marriage and family therapists
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