A plea for privacy: Rape victim shocked Cleveland Heights released her personal information online

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio - A Cleveland Heights rape victim is calling for changes to Ohio’s public records laws after finding her personal information on the city’s website.

“I couldn’t believe my name was out there like that,” said Alisa Alfaro.

Alfaro said she called Cleveland Heights police after she was raped by her neighbor Charles Cross, 62.

"I trusted him. Immensely. I really did,” she said.

Alfaro said she became good friends with Cross and his wife when she moved into the apartment building where they lived about two years ago.

“It was a friendship of adoration and respect,” she said.

She had even given Cross a key to her apartment, so he could by to take her two dogs for walks.

On May 16, Alfaro said he used the key to enter her apartment and sexually assault her.

“I woke up to it," she said.

After the assault, she immediately called the Cleveland Heights Police Department to report the crime.

When she went to the department’s website to print a copy of the report, she was shocked.

She had no idea officers would post all of her personal information online.

“I couldn’t believe my name was out there like that,” said Alfaro. 

The report, posted shortly after she reported the crime includes her name, address, date of birth, and other personal details.

However, Alfaro said she was more frustrated by what was left blank.

Alfaro said she immediately told police Cross was her attacker, but when she read the online report, she said his name was “nowhere to be found.”

“The fact that he wasn't on there,” she said. “I had to question who is being protected.”

After On Your Side Investigators asked about Alfaro’s concerns, Tanisha Briley, Cleveland Heights city manager, said the city will change its policy.

Briley declined requests for an on-camera interview, but sent us the following statement:

“Our online police report system was designed to promote transparency in strict compliance with the State of Ohio’s public records laws. Unfortunately, Ohio laws do not protect the names of victims and others involved in reported police incidents.  We certainly sympathize with Ms. Alfaro’s and other victims’ concerns for privacy and security.  Anyone who has been a victim of crime would want the same thing. While this information is technically considered to be public, the City has a choice in whether to publish it online.  In light of this incident we have decided to modify our system to exclude this information.  The reports will still be available to the public upon request per State law; however, going forward names of those involved in incidents in Cleveland Heights will not be available on our website.”

According to Dan Tierney, spokesperson for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, rape victims’ names are public information under Ohio’s public records laws.

“The bottom line is, while it might be legal, it's certainly not best practice," said Alexander Leslie, Senior Director of Educational Services for the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center.

“It's a barrier for other people coming forward,” he said.

Leslie said, as a courtesy, many law enforcement agencies redact victims’ names, while others do not. 

Alfaro now plans to lobby to change Ohio’s law so every department must remove rape victim’s names from incident reports online.

“I want the law changed so it applies to every victim after this,” she said. “That's what's most important."

Cross is currently in Cuyahoga County Jail on $125,000 bond.

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