Proposal shields conversations of sexual assault victims
September 24, 2005
WASHINGTON — Counselors could refuse to release details of sessions with rape victims to military courts under legislation introduced in Congress this week.
Currently, those conversations and other medical records are not private information in a military investigation.
Officials from the Miles Foundation, an organization that provides assistance to victims of violence associated with the military, said the bill, if adopted, would bring military policies in line with common practices among civilian physicians and therapists.
“We’re not re-creating the wheel here,” said Anita Sanchez, spokeswoman for the foundation.
“If a victim were to go forward with a case, this would preclude questions of an intimate nature about those [counseling sessions]. They usually don’t just talk about the assault. It’s often about prior relationships, relationships with family, things like that.”
Earlier this summer, an Air Force judge stopped legal proceedings against an officer accused of raping a fellow cadet in 2000 after the alleged victim’s therapist refused to turn over records of counseling sessions.
The therapist insisted that was private information, but the military court said the documents were within the scope of their investigation.
Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., who introduced the bill, said in a statement that without the assurance of confidentiality “sexual assault and domestic violence victims will be unlikely to seek essential care for fear of stigma, public embarrassment, or threats to their career.”
In August, an Air Force report assessing the sexual assault policy listed lack of privacy as one of the most common reasons victims do not report their attacks.
Sanchez said that emphasizes the need for the new law.
The bill would also cover victims of domestic assault.
In March, the Defense Department unveiled new policies allowing sexual assault victims to speak with counselors and other medical professionals without triggering an official investigation, to encourage more victims to seek help.
But if assault victims decide they do want an investigation, Sanchez said, they should not be forced to share private information to prosecute their attackers.