Rape victim says she was victimized by state
Posted April 30, 2009 6:03 p.m. EDT
Updated May 1, 2009 5:08 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — A local woman raped several years ago said she feels like she has been victimized again after she recently found court documents posted on the Internet with her name, other identifying information and details of the crime committed against her.
Now, she and victims' rights advocates are pushing for a change in state law to keep it from happening again.
To keep from testifying in court and having to reveal her identity, the victim, in January, agreed to a plea deal between the state and her attacker that would sentence him to three years in prison on lesser charges of sexual battery and second-degree kidnapping.
She said she began moving on with her life, until one day when she decided to search for her name on Google.
"I found a motion from the court proceedings, and it had my full name, my full Social Security number, my birth date and medical information," the woman said. "I never thought a lawyer and part of the state would rape my privacy like this."
The motion was under the training materials section on the Web site of the Office of Indigent Defense Services, which represents defendants who cannot afford attorneys. Thomas Maher, executive director of IDS, said a local attorney used the court document in training for a small group of public defenders.
The victim said she researched the site and found at least five more documents posted containing victims' personal information.
"There should have been a control mechanism to view all documents they put on their Web site," she said. "I don't understand how they could have just posted it and not looked at it."
Victims' rights advocates are now working with Sen. Larry Shaw, D-Cumberland, on proposed legislation that would shield the identities of victims of sex crimes in the same way juveniles are protected by the state.
They hope to introduce a bill in the next legislative session that would call for identifying information of victims in sex crimes be redacted from public documents and concealed in court.
"She was raped by her assailant and then by the court system," said Khalilah Sabra, a local victims' rights advocate who is pushing for the change. "There are no legal sanctions in place to protect her identity and her decency."
Wake County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Cruden, who prosecuted the local woman's case, said he thinks it is incredible that there are no safeguards in place to keep such information from getting on the Internet.
"In a way, she's been victimized twice," he said. "I sent IDS a letter letting them know how appalled I was by this conduct and that hopefully, they would not do it again and take that off."
The documents were removed from the site immediately, Maher said, and his office is reviewing all court documents posted on the site. It has also created safeguards to ensure a similar action does not happen again.
"I think someone who has been victimized in a case shouldn't be further victimized by having their name forever on the Internet or out disseminated in any way," Maher said.
"Nobody realized, at the time that it should have been redacted," he added. "I don't know that we thought too much that people would go to that site other than lawyers looking for training."