If I File a Sex Abuse Claim, Will My Name Be Public or Kept Private?
A common concern among sex abuse survivors is whether they have the option to remain anonymous or if coming forward and filing a lawsuit will require them to reveal their identities. Many survivors may wish to seek justice and compensation for the traumas they have suffered but are afraid of exposing themselves to friends, family and the community at large. Luckily, the civil justice system in California generally allows abuse survivors to use pseudonyms during the fight for justice.
The Importance of Privacy for Abuse Survivors
Privacy, confidentiality and anonymity are often critical to a survivor’s peace of mind during the healing process. The last thing most survivors want is for a simple Google search to reveal their history of sexual abuse to the general public – including friends, coworkers and employers. The fear of public scrutiny or friends and family finding out can be enough to prevent a survivor from coming forward with allegations against priests. Granting confidentiality during the claims process can encourage more survivors to tell their stories.
After a plaintiff does come forward, protecting his or her privacy continues to have the utmost importance. Without anonymity, the plaintiff may feel embarrassed, ashamed or vulnerable – potentially hurting the person’s ability to heal and move forward. The emotional harm and damage to someone’s reputation that could occur without preserving that person’s privacy are often enough to convince the courts to grant the use of pseudonyms during civil lawsuits. The courts will generally agree that the plaintiff’s need for privacy to heal outweighs the public’s right to an open court during cases involving sexual crimes.
Obtaining Anonymity in the Civil Courts
Taking a sexual abuse claim to court in pursuit of justice could mean exposing intensely private and intimate details about a significantly traumatic event to the public. Fortunately for survivors, the federal Constitution and many state constitutions protect a plaintiff’s right to privacy. Survivors may generally exercise their constitutional right to nondisclosure of personal information relating to sex crimes during civil lawsuits. This includes the right not to disclose one’s identity during a civil suit.
To achieve anonymity through the use of a pseudonym during a sexual abuse case, a plaintiff or his or her attorney must prove the survivor’s privacy considerations outweigh the court’s presumption of openness. The presumption of open courts states that the public has the right to access court proceedings. A judge will only allow the use of a pseudonym if the plaintiff’s side of the case can prove that his or her right to privacy is more important than the public’s right to the courts. In most cases, the courts will rule that this is the case if disclosure of a survivor’s identity could interfere with his or her healing process or cause further emotional damage.
When to Hire an Attorney
You are not alone in your desire for privacy during this difficult time. Speaking about your traumatic experiences with family members, the church, the police and attorneys can be difficult enough without also exposing your identity to innumerous strangers during a court hearing or settlement with the diocese at fault. Most courts will side in your favor if you request to remain anonymous during your civil claim. Hiring an attorney in California can increase the odds of the courts granting your request for a pseudonym.
Contact a lawyer from Manly, Stewart & Finaldi if you wish to go up against a priest or diocese in pursuit of justice yet fear the exposure of your identity to the public. Our lawyers understand how difficult it is for survivors of sexual abuse and assault to come forward. We handle claims according to the highest standards of confidentiality. Our attorneys can help you seek justice while protecting your security, privacy and best interests. Call (855) 944-0710 today to schedule a free and 100% confidential clergy abuse case evaluation.