Counselor says laws limit response to sexual assault

Debbie Danner, a licensed counselor in Columbia, said counselors can only share sexual assault victims' information without their permission in extreme circumstances.

A licensed counselor told KRCG 13 Thursday counselors almost always need permission to share information about sexual assault victims with anyone, even law enforcement.

Debbie Danner said in a sexual assault case like the one that allegedly involved MU swimmer Sasha Menu Courey, federal law forbids counselors from sharing what the victim tells them with law enforcement or anyone else unless they get the victimâ??s written consent. An ESPN story says Courey spoke both online and in person with university counselors about the assault, but MU officials say counselors could not contact law enforcement without Coureyâ??s permission. Courey later took her own life in 2011.

â??Whatever they tell me stays in this session unless itâ??s subpoenaed,â?? Danner said.

Danner said counselors can only share information without the personâ??s consent in extraordinary circumstances. She said the only exceptions allowed by HIPAA, the federal law regulating healthcare privacy, are sexual assaults involving children or severely disabled adults, or if the counselor thinks the person poses an imminent danger to themselves or others.

Danner said it is very common for sexual assault victims like Courey to wait before they tell anyone because they may think it is their fault or they will be judged. Danner said sometimes people do not know if what happened to them counts as sexual assault.

Asked whether she thought HIPAA should be changed, Danner said HIPAA should be left as it is and officials should instead revise laws concerning sexual assault. She said colleges and universities need to make a concerted effort to improve the resources available on campus for students who have been sexually assaulted.