OVC Resources on Confidentiality and Ethics



Date of Publication
March, 2016

The Office for Victims of Crimes (OVC) has recently released two free resources that should be helpful to community sexual assault program managers:

  • A downloadable publication called Strengthening Sexual Assault Victims' Right to Privacy that focuses on maintaining victim confidentiality. It contains key principles, information on challenges, and tips for advocates (including maintaining privacy to the extent possible when dealing with the criminal justice system.
  • An online course called Ethics in Victim Services that is suitable for staff with two or more years of experience, as well as supervisors. This course includes information on how to develop trainings for staff on ethical issues.

Here are a few thoughts on these topics that you may want to consider:

  • Don't assume that confidentiality is "handled" because it is presented in Core Training and initial staff orientation. Confidentiality should be an ongoing topic in all trainings, staff meetings, and supervisory discussions.
  • As your agency's confidentiality policies are updated and revised, be sure that staff are fully trained on those changes, and that all materials (consent forms, brochures, etc.) available to clients and the public are updated to be consistent with policy.
  • Use cases you hear about on the news as a jumping-off point for staff discussions of confidentiality and ethics.
  • While we tend to be very mindful of the confidentiality of survivors who are clients, it is also important to be mindful of privacy issues with staff members who are survivors. Even if a staff member has been open about their survivor status, other staff should not casually mention this fact to clients or the public, because this may be seen by others as a lack of clear boundaries or a violation of privacy.
  • Remind staff members (and yourself!) from time to time about the danger of letting information "slip" when talking to professionals outside the agency. Without a specific release of information from the client, it is critical to refrain from mentioning any aspects of a case that might identify individuals.
  • Beware of "hallway conversations" — talking about clients anywhere except behind a closed office door. You may think no one is listening when you speak confidentially to a colleague in your office hallway, at a restaurant, or in another public area, but this is a disaster waiting to happen. It is too easy for someone to accidentally overhear your conversation.
  • It is important to have the opportunity for staff and volunteers to vent about difficult situations on a regular basis in an appropriate forum (such as a supervisory relationship).