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There is no law protecting sexual assault victims' identities from appearing on public records

Posted at 6:47 PM, Mar 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-30 18:47:40-04

The names of sex crimes victims are released to the public even if they're underage, and there isn't a law protecting their identities. Instead, redaction is based on "courtesy."

News 5 looked into the public records laws that allowed the release of a child's name after an alleged sexual misconduct investigation in Milan Township that involved a 55-year-old church youth director named Kenneth Rose and at least one child.

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When we first started looking into it, we were surprised to find that child's name and birth date on a record anyone could access. 

News 5 called the Erie County prosecutor to make sure this wasn't a mistake, and that they meant to publish the name and personal information of a young girl online who may have been the victim of a sex crime.

Then we asked the case's investigator, detective sergeant Dennis Papineau with the Erie County Sheriff's Department, about it.

Papineau said, "In situations like that, yes we do have the information posted." 

Often, victim information in sex crimes is redacted on police reports. Especially if the victim is a juvenile.

"That's something I will have to look into and make sure that's correct," Papineau said.

Since News 5 initially reported the story, the child's information has been redacted from public reports.

But we discovered that redaction is considered a courtesy and many police departments simply choose to remove victim names to maintain their privacy.

News 5 took questions and concerns to Patrick Kabat, a public records attorney and professor.

"It would be perfectly lawful for them to just disclose it...there is no rule required to withhold information about minor victims and sex crimes," Kabat said. 

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According to Kabat, it comes down to transparency, and it is a standard across the country. 

"The Supreme Court has said it again and again, that public business should be conducted in sunlight to not only protect the victim or the perpetrator but to protect the integrity of our processes," Kabat said. "We allow the public to know about what happened. And that means names and acts are made public."

"That is a serious concern. That is one of the interests the law requires to be taken into consideration. That's why there are some laws that allow reports to be made confidentially," Kabat said. 

The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center said transparency can actually keep people from coming forward about sexual assault.

"It's a barrier for other people coming forward. The bottom line is while it may be legal, it's certainly not best practice," said senior director of educational services Alexander Leslie in a previous interview with News 5.

RELATED: Rape Crisis Center receives $3.2 million grant, sexual assault survivor says it's life-changing