Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (R-San Ramon) announced this week, Governor Jerry Brown has signed her Assembly Bill 953, which will help protect the privacy of victims of child abuse and domestic violence in court proceedings.
Many times, when a minor is the victim of sexual abuse, a restraining order is filed in civil court to prevent the situation from escalating before the matter is heard in a criminal court. This measure extends the privacy provisions already available for victims in criminal courts to those victims in family courts and for civil protective orders in civil court.
“This law removes a significant roadblock for some of our most vulnerable victims who need the assurance of confidentiality in order to fully access our court system and get protection from further or escalating violence and exploitation in cases involving domestic abuse and human trafficking,” says Dana Filkowski, Domestic Violence Supervisor of the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office.
Under this bill, victims and their guardians would be able to request that minor victim’s name, address, and circumstances surrounding the case are confidential in court documents. This bill gives judges in the civil setting the authority to order documents be filed under seal, and ensures that the sensitive information would be kept in a confidential case file available to law enforcement only for the purpose of enforcing the protective order.
“When working with teens who have experienced cyber-harassment or children who are victims of sexual abuse, we see how difficult and traumatizing it is for these children to seek and get help. We also see the clear need for them to keep their identity and what happened to them private and confidential. AB 953 recognizes the need to protect these children,” says Susun Kim, Executive Director of Contra Costa Family Justice Center.
Confidentiality is given to victims of sex crimes, human trafficking, child abuse, and domestic violence in criminal investigations and prosecution. This bill will allow these same protections to be extended to victims in civil lawsuits and investigations. Encouraging more access to and participation in these systems allows for early intervention and enhanced protections for victims whose cases still need protection from further escalating abuse.
“AB 953 will keep victims safer by keeping their information confidential. Victims deserve to feel safe using our system, and this bill will do that,” said Assemblywoman Baker.
AB 953 was supported by the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, Family Justice Center, Crime Victims United of California, California Sexual Assault Investigators Association, and the California Police Chiefs Association, Inc. This bill received unanimous, bipartisan support in both the Senate and Assembly prior to receiving the Governor’s signature.
Baker represents the 16th Assembly District, which includes the communities of Alamo, Danville, Dublin, Lafayette, Livermore, Moraga, Orinda, Pleasanton, San Ramon, and Walnut Creek.