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Section IV: Privacy, Confidentiality, Data Security, and Assistive Technology

ETHICAL STANDARD 4.1: The victim assistance provider protects the privacy of the person served, adhering to the highest applicable standard of privacy.

Commentary: Victim assistance providers should be aware of relevant policies and laws on privacy (e.g., programmatic privacy policies; limitations on confidentiality within justice agencies; professional, organizational, or ethical standards; state laws on privileged communication and mandated reporting; federal laws and regulations), and adhere to the highest standard of privacy, whether that is of the profession, the program, or state or federal law.

All states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have statutes identifying persons who are required to report suspected child maltreatment to an appropriate agency, such as child protective services, a law enforcement agency, or a state's toll-free child abuse reporting hotline. For more information on mandated reporting and a list of designated agencies in each state, visit www.childwelfare.gov.

Similarly, in most states there are mandatory reporter statutes applying to persons providing services to seniors or adults with disabilities. For more information and a list of adult protective agencies in each state, visit www.napsa-now.org.

ETHICAL STANDARD 4.2: The victim assistance provider preserves the confidentiality of information provided by the person served or acquired from other sources before, during, and after the course of the professional relationship.

Commentary: Victim assistance providers should be aware of and abide by program policy and legal authority governing confidential information in the jurisdiction. Persons being served should be provided with information regarding limits of confidentiality; preferably, this information should be provided during the first meeting (unless crisis circumstances preclude this).

Potential exceptions to confidentiality include the following:

  • In reporting to or consulting with administrative superiors, colleagues, and consultants who share professional responsibility and who are similarly bound to regard the communication as confidential.
  • With the informed, written consent of the person who provided the information.
  • In the case of death or disability, with the written consent of a personal representative or the beneficiary of an insurance policy on the person's life, health, or physical condition. Special consideration might be given to domestic violence cases or other cases in which disability may be a result of victimization by the personal representative (e.g., if a batterer is the personal representative, disclosure of confidential communications could put the victim/survivor at future risk).
  • When a communication reveals the intent to commit a crime or harm one's self or others and disclosure is judged necessary to protect any person from a clear, imminent risk of serious mental or physical harm or injury or to thwart a serious threat to public safety.
  • When a medical emergency occurs and the victim/survivor is not able to authorize the release of information, information limited to the medical emergency may be disclosed.
  • When the person waives confidentiality through legal actions brought against the provider.
  • As appropriate, in accord with legal authority, program policy, and in certain exceptional crisis situations.

Under state mandated reporting laws, when the victim/survivor is a minor or a vulnerable adult, certain conditions may warrant disclosure of confidential information. Like adults, minors should be forewarned, in language they can understand, of limitations on confidentiality. Victim assistance providers should make efforts to avoid unnecessary disclosure of victim/survivor confidences, unless a compelling reason exists to warn parents/guardians of danger to the child or to others. If a victim assistance provider acquires information indicating that a minor or vulnerable adult was the victim or subject of an unreported crime, the victim assistance provider may be required by state or federal law to report the crime or to testify.

If confidential communications are disclosed in response to the conditions listed above, the victim assistance provider should discuss the information being disclosed with the person served, and should be prepared to address the reactions evoked by this discussion. Victim assistance providers shall not use confidential communications to their own personal advantage or to the disadvantage of victims/survivors.

Any person having access to records or who participates in providing services who, in providing services, is supervised by a victim assistance provider, is similarly bound to regard all information and communications as privileged, in accord with the above conditions.

ETHICAL STANDARD 4.3: The victim assistance provider makes good-faith efforts to ensure that services are accessible, suitable, and secure for clients from a variety of personal backgrounds.

Commentary: Victims/survivors from different demographic, cultural, and experiential backgrounds may want services appropriate to their individual backgrounds. Victim assistance providers should be aware of auxiliary aids and services that support service provision to a range of individuals and groups. This might include knowledge of, and willingness and ability to access, qualified onsite sign and language interpreters, communication technologies such as instant messaging and texting, or assistive technologies such as telecommunication relay services and audio or video interpretation and translation services. Providers should carefully consider and address any data security issues that may arise as a result of using such technologies (see, e.g., Program Standards Section IV).

computer iconVAT Online is a free Web-based victim assistance training program that includes training modules on the topics of “Assessing Victim’s Needs,” “Referrals,” and “Collaboration.”