Can You Bring a California Child Sex Abuse Claim Anonymously?
Fortunately, California law recognizes that simply breaking the secrecy and shame surrounding child sexual abuse is a tremendous act of bravery. It allows for survivors to remain anonymous in police reports, civil filings, and other records to protect their privacy and safety.
Now, the California Child Victims Act could also encourage more victims to step forward. It gives adult survivors of child sexual abuse until age 40 to file civil lawsuits demanding justice. It also allows survivors, regardless of their age, to file civil lawsuits within five years from the point they discovered the abuse. In addition, the law includes a “lookback window” that gives any victim, regardless of the statute of limitations, the right to file a civil lawsuit in the three years following the law’s January 2020 enactment. We specialize in preserving anonymity in California child victim act cases.
Why Remain Anonymous in a Court Filing?
Some survivors, such as former gymnast Rachael Denhollander, who helped build the criminal sexual abuse cases against disgraced former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, are willing to go public, speaking to the court as well as the press. However, every person is different – some prefer to bring their past sexual abuse case anonymously.
Many survivors take years to disclose such abuse, and some never do, according to Child USA, a nonprofit think tank dedicated to preventing child abuse. One study found that the average victim is about 52 years old when they report child sex abuse. In addition, about 55% to 69% of adults say they never told anyone about sexual abuse during their childhoods.
The reasons for this silence and reluctance are many, including:
- Feelings of shame, embarrassment, or fear
- Race and cultural norms
- Family dysfunction, including a lack of family support, substance abuse, or domestic violence
- The relationship of the victim to the offender
- The duration and severity of the abuse
How Can I Remain Anonymous in a Court Filing?
California Penal Code Section 293 specifies that victims of sexual offenses can keep their names out of the public record. They can assume the pseudonym of Jane Doe or John Doe in all court proceedings and records. They must assert this right and request that their name be withheld, which they can do through an attorney.
Some plaintiffs in California court records also have used their initials, such as “M.P.,” or their first name and last initial, such as “John B.,” as a pseudonym.
The defendant maintains the right to full discovery. This means the prosecution must disclose the names of witnesses to the defense, and their legal representatives will know the victim’s name. However, a victim’s address or phone number cannot be disclosed to a defendant without a court hearing and a “showing of good cause,” according to California Penal Code Section 1054.2.
The Victims’ Bill of Rights, also known as Marsy’s Law, grants additional protections, such as:
- Preventing the disclosure of confidential records or information to a defendant, their attorney, or any person acting on their behalf that could be used to locate or harass the victim or their family
- Refusing an interview, deposition, or discovery request by the defendant, their attorney, or any person acting on their behalf, and setting reasonable conditions for the conduct of such an interview
How Common Is It for Child Sex Abuse Survivors to File a Lawsuit Anonymously?
This is extremely common. The courts have long recognized concerns about victims’ privacy in these cases. In fact, in our experience, there are more cases filed nowadays with survivors choosing to use a pseudonym such as “Jane Doe” or their initials because of electronic filings and internet-based searches for court cases.
Courts around the country recognize that publicizing the names of childhood sexual abuse survivors without their consent might prohibit others from disclosing their abuse.
What Security Measures Do Law Firms Have in Place?
Given concerns about data breaches, the California State Bar says that lawyers must reasonably monitor their technology and office resources to address the potential for inadvertent disclosure of confidential client information. This could include using a VPN or specific passwords, locking down portable devices, and training staff to protect this information.
Am I Allowed to Change My Mind Should I Decide to Go Public with My Story?
Absolutely. As the law states, anonymity in these cases is your right, and authorities must follow your wishes. That doesn’t prohibit you from speaking your truth when and if you decide to do so.
What Steps Should I Take to File a Child Sex Abuse Case Anonymously?
If you experienced childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault, you’re not alone in your struggle to share your story. It might help you to know that you have the right to sue your attacker and other responsible parties for compensation such as medical expenses, lost wages, payment for pain and suffering, and emotional distress.
The California Child Victims Act effectively extended the statute of limitations for filing civil lawsuits about such offenses because it recognized how difficult reporting this abuse can be. If you have questions or concerns about how to file a report of abuse or initiate a lawsuit, even if the abuse happened years ago, the Marcowitz Law Firm is here to help you.
We offer a free consultation where you can speak confidentially with one of our experienced childhood sexual abuse attorneys. We handle these cases with delicacy and compassion, and we’ll give you the time you need to talk while helping you understand what route to justice you may have through the legal system.
You can trust that we won’t pressure you about any course of action. We’ll respect your wishes and protect your anonymity throughout the entire legal process as we advocate on your behalf.
Contact A Compassionate Lawyer About Your Case
At The Marcowitz Law Firm, we offer confidential representation for individuals who were abused as a child in California. If you or a loved one has suffered from this form of abuse and wish to file a claim, we’re here to help explain your options and answer any questions. Please call us at (833) LAW.4040 or contact us online. The consultation is free.