If you are a victim of abuse and you talk to a counselor at a shelter or on a hotline about the abuse, there are laws that say that the counselor has to keep that information confidential. There are exceptions, however.
Will information that I share with a domestic violence counselor be kept confidential?
If you speak to a counselor at a domestic violence program or a rape crisis center (including a hotline, shelter, court advocacy program, etc.) about emotional or physical abuse, sexual assault, or any experience of domestic violence, the counselor must keep that information confidential. This means that the counselor cannot tell other people in the community about your situation (such as health care providers, attorneys, school staff, etc.). It doesn’t matter if the counselor or advocate is a volunteer or a paid employee; s/he still has to keep the information private unless you give him/her permission to reveal it.1
If you give permission to the counselor or advocate to discuss or share your information, it should be in writing – this is called written consent. In the written consent, you can specifically say who the counselor can share the information with. Also, you can put a time limit on the consent. For example, you can say that the consent is only valid for 30 days. After those 30 days, then the counselor must go back to keeping the information private. However, there are certain situations when the confidentiality privilege will not apply and the advocate/counselor can reveal the information you give. See Are there times when the counselor can reveal my information against my wishes? for more information.
1 N.C.G.S. § 8-53.12(b)
Are there times when the counselor can reveal my information against my wishes?
Yes. There are certain situations when the confidentiality privilege will not apply and the advocate/counselor can reveal the information you give:
- A judge can order that this information be revealed, if s/he believes that the information is absolutely necessary for evidence in a civil or criminal case and this would be the only way for this information to be brought into the case.
- If the counselor or advocate suspects child abuse, neglect, or dependency (this is when a child does not have an adult to take care of her/him), the counselor is obligated to report the abuse to the Department of Social Services (“DSS”). If you think that the counselor may report child abuse to DSS, you may ask her/him to allow you to contact DSS first.
- The counselor or advocate may share information with law enforcement if s/he understands that you or someone else (i.e., a family member or your child) needs protection because you or someone else are in danger of immediate and serious injury. If you die, the counselor no longer has to keep this information confidential and can reveal it to anyone for any reason.
- The counselor may share your information with other employees at the domestic violence program.
- The domestic violence program may use your information for statistics or research but only without giving any personal identifying information (such as your name, Social Security number, etc.).
- The domestic violence program may use your information to defend against a lawsuit if you sue the domestic violence counselor or program.1
1 NCGS § 7B-301; § 7B-302; § 7B-303
When might I need the counselor/advocate to share my information with others?
You might need the counselor/advocate to share your confidential information with other professionals that are helping you. For example, if you are working with a therapist or with an attorney, you might want to give the counselor permission to talk to them about what you told him/her. Also, the counselor/advocate might be looking for other agencies or community resources to help you, such as the housing authority, and may need to talk about the abuse you have been through.
If the counselor asks your permission to share confidential information, you have the right to ask who does s/he need to share it with, why s/he needs to share the information, the possible consequences of sharing the information (i.e. the fact that once the information is shared it is no longer protected), and any other questions you may have. Based on his/her answers, you can decide if you want to consent to the counselor sharing the information.