On July 13, 2022, the Minnesota Supreme Court handed sexual assault victims (and their advocates) an important victory—ruling that state law protects communications between sexual assault victims and counselors they go to for help—in In re HOPE Coalition v. Conrad.
The State Supreme Court decided that the decision of a lower court judge, which allowed for the review of a sexual assault counselor’s notes and memoranda in a criminal case was unreasonable because the applicable Minnesota law, when read and its plain and ordinary meaning applied, “creates a privilege for sexual assault counselors that cannot be pierced in a criminal proceeding without the victim’s consent.”
Indeed, the law at issue, Minn. Stat. § 595.02, subd. 1(k), unambiguously states that, “Sexual assault counselors may not be allowed to disclose any opinion or information received from or about the victim without the consent of the victim.” Easy enough right? Wrong. Surprisingly, judges across Minnesota, more often than not, have been allowing for the review of these records without the consent of the victim and inconsistently applying the law for decades—necessitating that the Minnesota Supreme Court have the final word. From reading a few reactions from sexual assault advocacy groups, it’s clear that those organizations view this as an important stand from the Court at ending sexual assault. The groups have said that, if the Court had gone the other way, knowing that these records between the counselor and the victim could be reviewed would have a chilling effect on a victim’s willingness to report the assault.
We, at MJSB Employment Justice, applaud our State Supreme Court’s ruling and will continue to fight for our brave sexual assault survivors who courageously stand up to their assaulters (and the unsympathetic employers who, sometimes, stand idly by).