During the 2019 legislative session, legislation specific to the work of child sexual assault multi-disciplinary teams, or MDTs, was included. House Bill 5465: a law to direct multi-disciplinary teams to develop and implement protocols for online and commercial sexual exploitation was successfully passed. Included in this law is language clarification regarding information sharing between MDT members. This piece of the legislation clarifies privileged communications.
"Team members may share information about criminal child abuse investigations with other participants in the multidisciplinary coordination, but no member is required to do so if sharing such information would constitute a violation of that team member's professional ethical obligations or disclose privileged communication as defined by statute." (HB 5465, section 3, 2[b])
Sexual assault advocates are protected by privilege, according to RCW 5.60.060(7), which tells us that “advocates may not, without the consent of the victim, be examined as to any communication made between the victim and the sexual assault advocate.”
Furthermore, programs that receive funding from the Department of Justice Office on Violence against Women (OVW) are covered by the “Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Confidentiality Provision”. The VAWA Confidentiality Provision requires grantees and subgrantees to protect the privacy of individuals who seek services from their programs. This means that programs may not release, disclose, or confirm any identifying information of clients who seeks services.
Here are some potential ideas to address these challenges:
- When possible and consensual, advocates can obtain a release of information from the survivor. This release of information needs to include specific information about what information will be shared and with whom. Thus, it is useful to know in advance who will be in attendance at MDTs. This release of information must be obtained with informed consent, without guilting or moralizing survivors into releasing information.
- When a release of information is not obtained, advocates can share generally about best-practice, social justice informed services, and trauma-informed services for survivors.
- The MDT can create a working Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between team members. This document can include expectations, guidelines, and roles of each group member. Furthermore, the MOU can include a reminder of confidentiality and information sharing legislation.
- Advocates and MDT members can share their what their discipline’s ethical responsibility is to confidentiality, including legislation mandates regarding information sharing. This can be done on the outset of the meetings, as well as periodically during the course of relationship building.