Frequently Asked Questions

This section provides an overview on questions that commonly come up concerning confidentiality releases, U.S. Federal Laws on confidentiality, record retention and deletion, mandatory reporting, the use of surveillance cameras, answering subpoenas and much more. For ease, this section is set up in an easy-to-read question and answer format.

VAWA 2005 & Confidentiality

What is VAWA?

Initially passed in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)1 was the first U.S. federal legislation to acknowledge domestic violence and sexual assault as crimes. It provides federal resources to enhance investigation, prosecution, and community-coordinated responses. Reauthorized in 2000 and 2005, VAWA is administered by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women. VAWA 2005 reauthorized existing programs to combat domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking, and created new programs and provisions to address the emerging needs of victims and communities.

Footnotes:

1 U.S. Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005 (VAWA 2005), enacted as Public Law 109‐162 on January 5, 2006.

What confidentiality protections are provided by VAWA?

The U.S. federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) VAWA 2005 Section 3, 42 USC §13925(b)(2)(2008)1 became effective in 2006, and provides for a universal grant condition that requires VAWA grantees and subgrantees to maintain the confidentiality of personally identifying victim information. Failure to follow those universal grant conditions regarding victim privacy could result in a loss of funding. It prohibits disclosure of personally identifying information or individual information collected in connection with services requested, utilized, or denied through grantees’ and subgrantees’ programs without the informed, written, reasonably time-limited consent of the person. For more information about releases and VAWA, please see the FAQ’s on Survivor Confidentiality Releases.

Footnote:

1 42 U.S.C. § 13925 Definitions and grant provisions

VAWA has an exception for statutory or court mandates. What does that mean?

Statutory or court mandates can be exceptions to VAWA confidentiality. They must be specifically addressed to confidentiality in order to constitute an exception, and are specifically created by each state’s laws. These exceptions can be different in every state. The most common statutory mandate is the exception for mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse or neglect, which may be found in many states’ laws. Court mandates are specific court orders (for example, an order made by a court after denying a domestic violence program’s motion to quash a subpoena in states where confidentiality is not absolute).

Is a subpoena for records a court mandate exception?

Generally not. In the vast majority of U.S. states, a subpoena is not a court order. Best practice in every state is to ask the court to quash (invalidate) any subpoena that asks for a program’s records. Responding to subpoenas can raise unique questions. For help in responding to subpoenas, programs should contact a local attorney with knowledge about U.S. federal VAWA and state laws regarding confidentiality. Programs may also contact NNEDV’s Safety Net Project for resources to address subpoenas. See also, question "What should our DV/SA program do if we get a subpoena" in our piece: FAQ’s on Survivor Confidentiality Releases.