Hope Coalition

Hope Coalition in Red Wing provides a variety of services from domestic violence to housing. 

Sexual assault survivors can now talk with advocates and counselors knowing that their information will remain confidential. 

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in favor of an argument by Hope Coalition and other advocate groups. Since November 2019, Standpoint and Hope Coalition have worked toward achieving this ruling. 

The law that was questioned in this case protects communications between sexual assault counselors and anyone who consults with them for help. In the past, the law has been inconsistent on a case-by-case basis.

“One of the most important things that sexual assault and domestic violence programs provide to victim survivors is the understanding that their conversations that they have with an advocate are confidential,” said Rana Alexander, executive director of Standpoint and one of the attorneys on the case.

With the ruling in favor of Hope Coalition, this reaffirms the law and the safety of survivors.

“In the state of Minnesota sexual assault advocates have protected communication with victims, this is really important because victims need a safe place to go to talk about thier options and talk about their choices,” Hope Coalition program manager Heather Kolling said.

“Communication with an advocate is the one place a victim can kind of choose their own path. That is why it is important to have this protected communication,” she said.

Confidentiality neglected

The state law gives victims the same confidentiality privilege that doctors and patients have or attorneys and their clients have. This has been the language in the law, yet before this ruling, the confidentiality had been neglected in certain circumstances. 

“We have a law in Minnesota that survivors and their advocates have this privileged relationship. It is the same privilege that exists between doctor and patient and the same privilege that exists between attorneys and their clients,” Alexander said. 

“It should be the exact same type of confidentiality and that is what this ruling said. For a really long time a variety of privileges were not being treated as such and the courts were regularly ordering or allowing subpoenas of privileged materials that were statutorily never supposed to be disclosed,” she continued.

The case made it to the state Supreme Court, a first for the Hope Coalition. 

The court ruling reverses a decision from a district judge that allowed the court to review information coming from communications with Hope Coalition including notes, memoranda, records and reports.

“It has been in statute in Minnesota for a very long time, and there have been different challenges with it.” Kolling said, 

“This is the first time a case has made it all the way up through the Supreme Court to be able to create a case law that just validates that in Minnesota the plain language in the statute is that and we are going to protect the victims rights through the criminal process,” she continued. 

This ruling protects anyone who is affected by sexual assault and violence. Although some view sexual assault as a “women’s” issue, this affects many more groups of people. 

“This case was specific to sexual assault counselors, people may say this is a women’s issue, but this is something that effects a lot of people,” Hope Coalition Executive Director Sara Kern said.

“Before the age of 18 one in six boys will be sexually assaulted and that is something that is not talked about as much. People who are transgender or a part of the LGBTQ+ community are at a higher risk of being sexually assaulted,” Kern said. 

Hope more seek help

With the ruling affirming the protection of information, Hope Coalition and other advocacy groups hope that this will be encouraging for those seeking help to do so. Now that all information related to a sexual assault cases and reporting will remain confidential, reporting and seeking help at Hope Coalition is safe for victims.

“If the courts say that what victims say to their advocate is fair game or can be opened, then less people are going to report and less people are going to seek help and support. Advocates are there to be able to tell victims what their options are,” Kern said. 

“Us helping victims in providing those options is very important, and if they decide that we are not a safe space for that then where is safe for them,” she continued. 

This is an issue that impacts anyone in the state of Minnesota. With the ruling confirming protections for victims rights, there is hope that more survivors will feel safe and comfortable reporting and seeking resources. 

“The more people see successes for victims rights, the more comfortable they feel utilizing that system,” Kolling said.

“The more attention things like this get, the more people realize there are options like us out there. There is a a sexual violence resource in every county of Minnesota that is there to help, and it is now identified as a safe space,” Kolling said. 

After several years of challenges with this case, Kern and Kolling felt relief when learning that the ruling of the court was in Hope Coalition’s favor. Many emotions were felt by the advocates, and everyone affected by this case throughout the process. 

“The impact went beyond this one case with the ripple effect and the fear of how many survivors would not come forward or the feeling that advocacy might not be a safe space anymore if the confidentiality can’t be upheld. So to know that now there is case law in place that is going to enforce its protections is just relief,” Kern said.

After about three years of getting to this point, the feeling of accomplishment and alleviation was felt for Kolling. With the case taking years to receive the ruling in Hope Coalition’s favor, the victim had to put their own trial on hold during this time.

“I know that our name is on the Supreme Court case and that is a huge deal, but there was a victim in this too whose case was held up for three years, and they were gracious enough and willing to let us fight this to allow other victims to never have to go through what they went through with subpoenaed records, ” Kolling said. 

“We could not have done this without this victim being supportive of that and just recognizing the additional traumatization they had to go through as they waited through a pandemic and all the challenges that held their case up,” Kolling said. “We are very grateful for that victim allowing us to do this.”

Hope Coalition

Hope Coalition has resources for victims of sexual assault and resources for domestic violence, homelesssness and basic needs. Hope Coalition offers a 24 hour crisis hotline, the sexual assault hotline is 1-800-519-6690 and the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-369-5214.

Calling the hotline will put people directly in contact with an advocate that can help and point them in the right direction for resources and next steps. 

For more information about the resources available visit Hope Coalition's website at hope-coalition.org.

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