Demystifying privilege

Recently there has been a story circulating on several national news outlets, including ESPN, about the tragic case of a female University of Missouri swimmer who committed suicide. She was allegedly sexually assaulted after a campus party a year beforehand. While the articles raise a number of issues regarding sexual assaults on college campuses, one that jumped out was the fact that the victim initially reported the sexual assault to a doctor, who, by law a privileged source, initially did not report the incident to the campus or local police.

Legal issues like privileged sources are something you get drilled into you if you attend a police academy but may not be familiar with if outside the law enforcement/legal world. Ohio, like a number of other states, is what is sometimes called a “duty to report” state. This means that under Ohio law (Ohio Revised Code 2921.22), you are required to report felony crimes to law enforcement if you know about them—unless you are what is called a privileged source.

Privileged sources are, in general, people like doctors, psychiatrists, attorneys and religious clergy members; they have been granted the ability to keep conversations privileged under the law for specific reasons. Here at Case Western Reserve University, examples would be professional staff at the Counseling center or the University Health Services.

The rest of us folks have a duty to report. While people are often reluctant to get involved or don’t want to be seen as a snitch, the law just codifies something we should be doing anyway. Law enforcement cannot be everywhere and relies on members of the community to give them the information they need to try and ensure the safety of all.

A crime that goes unreported only encourages further crime—rare is a criminal who does something only once in their life, especially if they feel like they got away with it the first time. It goes back to the old saying: All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. So if you see something, say something—let’s look out for each other.

On the Beat is a weekly safety column written by Sergeant Jeffrey Daberko & Officer Mark (The Crossing Guard) Chavis of CWRU PD. Send feedback to this or other columns at