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Informed Choice and Consent
Victims may feel that they have nothing to hide and that confidential information can only help them or their court case. However, informed consent requires you to explain to victims the potential uses and misuses of confidential information once it is released to judges, defendants, the police, or public agencies. Also, court records may become public records that anyone can access; you need to consider ways to protect victims' privacy (e.g., sealing court files, prohibiting distribution of documents).12 In other words, informed consent depends on informed choice:
- Informed choice is a voluntary, well-considered decision that an individual makes on the basis of options, information, and understanding. The decisionmaking process should result in a free and informed decision by the individual about whether he or she wants to proceed.
- Informed consent is the communication between victim and provider that confirms that the victim has made an informed and voluntary choice to proceed. Informed consent can only be obtained after the victim has been informed about the process and other alternatives. Voluntary consent cannot be obtained by means of duress, coercion, or misrepresentation. Regardless of the presence or absence of written documentation, informed consent requires providers to ensure that a victim has knowingly and voluntarily agreed to the process. Whether informed consent is written or verbal, however, it cannot replace the informed-choice process, which depends on the exchange of information between providers and victims.
Informed consent also requires that victims understand the implications of their choices, without feeling threatened. For example, if a victim declines a sexual assault medical forensic exam, the lack of physical evidence could negatively affect the prosecution of the case. Victims need to fully understand the benefits and disadvantages of their decisions so that they do not regret their decisions later.