Tennessee Coalition for Open Government’s executive director Deborah Fisher offered testimony to the House State Government Committee Tuesday pointing out how proposed legislation to redact the names of sexual assault victims from crime records could reduce the media’s ability to report on sexual assault crimes.
The House State Government Committee passed the bill, which had been amended by the sponsors from its original version to apply only to cases in which there is a conviction or guilty plea. The bill also allows individual victims to sign a written waiver to opt out of the law’s confidentiality requirements.
Fisher noted stories by Tennessee media in which public records were used to find sexual assault victims who were willing to share their stories on the record, shedding light on the victim’s experience in the criminal justice system. One such story, which published in the Commercial Appeal on March 23, documented how the lack of rape kit testing by Memphis police to gain DNA evidence contributed to a Cordova serial rapist being able to continue his crimes for 10 years before being caught.
One of the early victims who decided to publicly share how police had treated her case was found by the newspaper using court and other records months after the rapist was convicted and sentenced.