“I don’t want anyone to know that I’m filing a lawsuit.”
“I’m not ready to tell people that I was abused.”
“I still go to church, and I am not comfortable with my name being ‘out there.”
“It’s hard enough just existing day-to-day. I’m not ready to be a crusader.”
“If I come forward and file a lawsuit, it could affect my job and my family. I don’t want to take that risk of them finding out and looking at me differently.”
These are the real and valid concerns and questions that we hear from survivors every day, especially as civil window and bankruptcy deadlines loom in several states and dioceses. However, none of them should hinder a survivor from coming forward and filing a lawsuit.
Fortunately, the law protects you AND your privacy when you are a victim of a crime—especially if that crime is sexual assault or child sexual abuse. Lawmakers and law enforcement know that child sexual abuse is a crime of shame and secrecy. They understand that simply saying “it happened to me” is a huge act of bravery.
That’s why you have the option to remain anonymous if you file a claim for child sexual abuse and cover-up. Fear of disclosing before you are ready should never hinder you from seeking justice and protecting kids right now.
What does it mean to be anonymous in a court filing?
If you come forward and file a case and choose to remain anonymous, the name of the survivor (or “plaintiff”) on the paperwork in your lawsuit will be listed as Jane Doe or John Doe. Your attorney will most likely add a number, code letters, or other identifier to the Doe—like “John Doe 33a”—so that they can identify your case. You will remain that Jane or John Doe throughout the process.
How common is it to file anonymously and use a John or Jane Doe?
It is VERY common for survivors to use the Doe name. In fact, the vast majority of cases filed are done so by survivors who choose to remain anonymous. These numbers have increased with greater use of electronic courthouses and internet-based searches for legal cases. Many people also choose to use the Doe option because they are concerned about the internet and online privacy. These are real concerns that are recognized by the courts.
Who will have to know who I am?
You will have to tell your attorney your full name, as well as other information so that they can do the best and most ethical work possible on your behalf. The entity/entities you are suing and their legal representatives will also know your name. However, all of these parties are required by law to keep your name confidential and will face legal and financial consequences if that privacy is breached.
Is my case handled any differently than cases where the survivor uses their name?
No. All cases are handled the same. All survivors, whether named or not, receive the same amount of care, respect and diligence within the legal system.
Can I change my mind?
Of course. You will want to discuss this with your attorney and carefully weigh the pros and cons—as well as the reason you decided to remain anonymous in the first place. We understand that you may be ready to “go public” days, months, or years down the road and we support you. Your name and your story belong to you.