Alleged Sexual Misconduct Victims’ Privacy Rights Affirmed in Concurring Opinion by Justice Hyman — Our Firm Assisted in the Appellate Brief Vindicating Alleged Victims’ Rights to Seek Justice Under Assumed Names to Protect Their Privacy Rights While Still Being Free to Pursue Justice

Efforts by an alleged perpetrator and his legal team to unmask a Jane Doe plaintiff (by revealing her name) were held dead on arrival by the Illinois Appellate Court today. Our firm assisted lead counsel Tamara Holder with the appellate briefs. In these types of matters, our firm concentrates on defending alleged sexual assault victims who are allegedly revictimized by being subject to what we advocate, on our client’s behalf, in court papers, are strike suits for defamation or libel. This practice of suing the alleged victim for libel or defamation is, unfortunately, becoming an all too common tactic to, we contend, try to bully them into silence or to retract their claims.

The forceful and well-reasoned concurring opinion by Justice Hyman explains why efforts to expose the names of alleged victims of sexual misconduct or assault is a pernicious practice. The opinion provides guide posts for courts in Illinois and across the country to encourage alleged sexual misconduct or assault victims to seek justice, without having to suffer more trauma due to their names being spread all over the internet. It also notes that the alleged perpetrator should have similar privacy rights prior to a judgment on guilt or innocence.

The concurring opinion states:

In a world where the Internet already has created privacy, confidentiality, and security issues, we now enter the age of artificial intelligence, exacerbating these issues and making secrecy vital. No longer, in famous observation of Justice Brandeis almost 100 years ago, is “right to be let alone” enough. Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 478 (1928) (Brandeis, J., dissenting). In the 21st century, the right to be left unknown will join the right to be let alone as a vexing subject of intense legal debate. Indeed, the question of anonymity has taken on increased significance as court records have become readily available to the general public through even casual Internet searches. As the appellant notes in his brief, a Google search of a litigant’s name can produce an untold number of articles describing the lawsuit. Those articles may be available online for a lifetime, unless kept confidential. Although Illinois case law offers slight guidance on petitions to proceed anonymously, an alleged victim deserves anonymity whether or not their identity has been divulged elsewhere, including in a case not brought by them. …

Although no reported Illinois cases address whether a claim of sexual violence constitutes an “exceptional” situation warranting the use of a pseudonym, federal courts in Illinois have recognized that allegations of sexual assault are “highly sensitive, personal matters that involve the disclosure of information of the utmost intimacy.” Doe v. Cook County, Illinois, 542 F. Supp. 3d 779, 786 (N.D. Ill. 2021); accord Doe No. 2 v. Kolko, 242 F.R.D. 193, 195 (E.D.N.Y. 2006) (while the Seventh Circuit disfavors fictitious names, it has “recognized that sexual assault victims are a paradigmatic example of those entitled to a grant of anonymity” (citing Doe, 112 F.3d at 872)). Even so, a sexual violence allegation alone has been considered not dispositive. See Cook County, Illinois, 542 F. Supp. 3d at 786 (“allegation of sexual assault alone does not end the inquiry”); Doe v. Skyline Automobiles, Inc., 375 F. Supp. 3d 401, 405-06 (S.D.N.Y. 2019) (“other factors must be taken into consideration and analyzed in comparison to the public’s interest and the interests of the opposing parties”).

Illinois has taken steps to protect individuals’ private information. Examples include the Personal Information Protection Act (815 ILCS 530/1 et seq. (West 2022)), and the Biometric Information Privacy Act (740 ILCS 14/1 et seq. (West 2022)), and two laws regulating data obtained by artificial intelligence, the Artificial Intelligence Video Interview Act (820 ILCS 42/5 (West 2022)) and the Illinois Health Statistics Act (410 ILCS 520/1 et seq. (West 2022)). Nonetheless, the law cannot keep pace with the speed of innovations, compromising privacy. Corinne Moini, Protecting Privacy in the Era of Smart Toys: Does Hello Barbie Have A Duty to Report?, 25 Cath. U.J.L. & Tech. 281, 299 (2017) (asserting that privacy torts do not provide adequate protection for privacy implications of artificial intelligence and data collection). When methods of intruding into private lives and stripping anonymity outpace lawmakers’ ability to address them, courts have a duty under existing rules of procedure to protect sexual assault and abuse victims.

Plaintiff, a minor when the alleged sexual assault occurred, undeniably constitutes an “exceptional” situation. The lawsuit involves matters of a highly personal nature warranting anonymity. Indeed, Illinois Supreme Court rules acknowledge the need for anonymity in cases involving minors. For instance, the Illinois Supreme Court rules provide that minors shall be identified by first name and last initial or by initials in adoption cases (Ill. S. Ct. R. 663 (eff. Oct. 1, 2001) and appeals involving the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (705 ILCS 405/1 et seq. (West 2022)). Ill. S. Ct. R. 660(c) (eff. Oct. 1, 2001). Moreover, the Style Manual for the Supreme and Appellate Courts of Illinois (5th ed. rev. 2017) provides for using the minor’s initials in cases involving the Department of Children and Family Services. These rules reflect the need to protect the identity of a minor in matters of a personal nature that involve potentially stigmatizing issues such as termination of parental rights or juvenile criminal conduct.  An alleged victim of sexual violence has similar reasons for protecting their identity when filing a lawsuit under the Gender Act. The alleged conduct involves highly personal conduct likely to embarrass and stigmatize, regardless of its availability on the Internet. Thus, I would find that an alleged victim has a compelling reason to proceed anonymously when filing a complaint. Similarly, an accused perpetrator should be able to seek anonymity on petition….

The appellant contends that Doe waived her right to proceed anonymously because she filed an affidavit supporting a motion to dismiss the defamation lawsuit the appellant filed against his other accusers. (The appellant added Doe as a defendant in the defamation litigation after she filed her complaint.) I must disagree that she waived her right. When Doe filed the affidavit in the defamation case, she had yet to file her complaint against defendant. The decision to help another litigant should not bar an individual from proceeding anonymously in their own lawsuit, regardless of an affidavit in another proceeding. Filing suit creates a different level of exposure than filing an affidavit in support of others.

You can read the entire opinion here.

Our firm concentrates on protecting the rights of alleged sexual assault victims when they are sued in what we believe are strike suits (for libel or defamation) brought by the alleged sexual predator who we claim is seeking to silence the alleged victims. For a free consultation on your libel or defamation matter call us at 630-333-0333 or contact us online.

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