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Ethical Communication

Many times, dilemmas arise because SART members think the best action is immediate action. However, immediate action may not always be the best solution. Consider, for example, that during a case review, an advocate realizes the victim had a crucial piece of evidence and it is clear that law enforcement is unaware of the evidence. The advocate could reason that because the victim is cooperating with the police, the information could be shared without a confidentiality waiver. However, instead of making an either/or decision (to speak or not to speak), the advocate might consider contacting the victim to obtain a waiver or encourage the victim to contact police.

Or, what if—

  • Following law enforcement's press release of an arrest involving sexual assault in a suburban hospital facility, additional victims have come forward, presenting new allegations of sexual assault against a hospital employee. The community is beginning to panic and members of the press are approaching various SART representatives for interviews and information. How does the team determine who will speak to the media and what information will be released in a way that preserves victim confidentiality but also provides the community with information?
  • While informally discussing a case that has been referred for prosecution, two SART members discover that a conflicting piece of information exists. How should the team proceed?
  • A sexual assault forensic examiner is called out of the exam room, leaving the advocate and victim alone together with the evidence. This circumstance breaks the chain of custody, but the evidence was not tampered with. Should an advocate ignore the issue on the grounds that nobody would ever know?

Working through potential dilemmas proactively can minimize cross-disciplinary misunderstandings or ethical breaches. It is crucial for core SART members to understand ethical codes that govern each discipline and to work together as a team to create a shared ethical standard (e.g., how different disciplines, with different job responsibilities and varying degrees of confidentiality/privileged communications, can resolve issues).

Ethical situations that cause dilemmas generally have warning signs. When applying ethics to a crisis-related situation, take proactive measures whenever possible. For example, the following phrases signal a potential for a compromised ethical response that could ultimately affect criminal justice outcomes:8

  • "Well, maybe just this once . . ."
  • "No one will ever know . . ."
  • "Everyone does it . . ."
  • "Shred that document."
  • "We didn't have this conversation."
  • "No one will get hurt."