NOTE: This article provides an informational review of #ME2CSA; it is not an endorsement and Crew Janci LLP is not affiliated with #ME2CSA. Furthermore, this article is for informational purposes only; it is not intended as legal advice. Every case is different and you should consult with an attorney before taking any action that could impact your legal case.
Several abuse survivors and advocates have asked us recently about a newly-unveiled online “Abuser ID System” by an organization called #ME2CSA. It has been receiving some media attention over the last few weeks. In light of these inquiries, we thought we would take a closer look. In doing so, we reviewed the website, press release and media coverage, educational videos, and spoke with the legal counsel for the organization.
This blog will address the following questions about ME2CSA’s Abuser ID System:
- What is #ME2CSA?
- Who is behind it?
- How does it work?
- Why might #ME2CSA be appealing to victims?
- What information is collected?
- Is it really anonymous?
- Is it really confidential?
- What Are ME2CSA’s Limitations?
- What about defamation?
- What else should you know?
What is it?
The recently unveiled system – by an organization called #ME2CSA – is an online system that allows adult survivors of child sexual abuse to anonymously identify their abusers. However, the reports submitted are not posted online. Instead, #ME2CSA acts as a sort of confidential “matching” system for adult survivors of child sexual abuse who are abused by the same perpetrator. It allows an adult survivor of child sexual abuse to submit an anonymous and confidential report about a child sexual abuser and to learn if/when there are other allegations against the same abuser. If ME2CSA determines that multiple victims have reported the same abuser, the ME2CSA Abuser ID System allows the reporting victims to choose whether or not to connect with each other.
ME2CSA has created an overview video that you can view here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tMVGoNOdDk. We are told that since its launch, hundreds of individuals have already submitted abuser identifications at www.me2csa.com.
Who is behind #ME2CSA?
Although #ME2CSA is new, it is an initiative of a reputable nonprofit organization with a history of advocating for victims of child sexual abuse called the Vertigo Charitable Foundation (VCF). VCF has produced award-winning documentaries about how abuse survivors’ cases are handled by the American legal system. You can read more about them here: http://www.vcfhelp.org/wordpress/.
Notably, Vertigo Charitable Foundation’s founder and CEO has a personal connection to child sexual abuse. According to a public statement by Valerie Gibson, VCF’s founder and CEO, at the time of the unveiling, “[VCF’s] goal is to provide a safe and confidential method for adult survivors to identify their abusers and to determine if particular abusers are identified by multiple survivors.”
How Does #ME2CSA Work?
We reviewed the #ME2CSA Abuser ID System carefully to get a better understanding of what survivors can expect if they decide to use the system.
The process goes like this:
- The survivor submits an online abuser identification form at me2csa.com.
- Data from the submitted form is entered into the organization’s database and reviewed by human’s on the #ME2CSA organization’s staff.
- If the organization discovers that more than one victim has reported abuse by the same individual, the organization privately notifies the email address provided in each report against that abuser.
- Upon receiving the notification, the survivor decides whether to share their submission information with the other survivors who were abused by the same individual.
- If the “matching” survivors chose to share, the ID forms are sent to each agreeing survivor who reported the same abuser; those survivors can then decide whether they wish to engage in direct communication with each other.
- From there, the survivors can decide (together or individually), whether they wish to publicly identify the perpetrator and/or contact law enforcement; however, ME2CSA does not participate in those actions.
Why might #ME2CSA be appealing to victims?
In many cases, an adult survivor of child sexual abuse believes for a long time that he/she was “the only one.” This is often the direct result of: (1) the grooming process whereby the perpetrator manipulates, isolates and/or marginalizes the victim; and (2) the defense mechanisms unconsciously at play within the survivor.
Moreover, social science research is clear that, historically, most victims of child sexual abuse have never disclosed to anyone. When coupled with the fact that child sexual abusers are usually recidivists (and can have many victims), this means that many child sexual abusers will continue abusing until late in their lives.
In light of these realities, adult survivors of child sexual abuse are likely to be drawn to an innovation that allows them to determine whether there are other victims out there. ME2CSA may create an opportunity for a survivor to build relationships with other victims of the same perpetrator. These survivors may feel a unique understanding and compassion for one another. Moreover, this solidarity may empower victims to take action, potentially leading to more predators being confronted and possibly prevented from causing further harm. For example, even if claims by one victim reporting to #ME2CSA are barred by the statute of limitations, another later victim of the same perpetrator (whose claims are not barred) may be empowered to take action when she/he learns there were others. (You should speak with a lawyer if you have questions about the statute of limitations.)
What Information is Collected?
To submit a report, the victim fills out a web-based form at www.me2csa.com. The information collected includes the following:
- Survivor’s first name (or a fictitious name)
- Survivor’s current age
- An email address at which the survivor can be contacted
- Survivor’s age at the time of abuse
- Locations and time-frame of abuse suffered
- Whether a police report was made (and to what agency)
- Whether any legal action was taken against the abuser (and, if so, what action)
- Whether the survivor has told anyone about the abuse (and, if so, what relation that person was – friend, family member, etc.)
- The abuser’s full name and any aliases
- Abuser’s gender
- Abuser’s address (current and at time of abuse)
- Abuser’s email, phone, and social media handles
- Abuser’s occupation
- Any affiliated organizations for the abuser
The submission form also provides a mechanism for a survivor to upload a photo of the perpetrator.
After the form is completed, the reporting survivor is asked to affirm that the information is true to the best of their knowledge. Then, the survivor clicks to submit.
Me2csa.com has created an overview video of the report submission process which you can view here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gv8vOLgIcvI
Is It Really Anonymous?
ME2CSA Abuser ID Program reports that it can be as anonymous as the individual victim chooses. Reporting survivors can use a fictitious name and de-identified email address. If you choose to enter your real name or an email address that contains your real name, that report is obviously less anonymous.
I confirmed in my discussion with their legal counsel that ME2CSA is not actively obtaining or cataloguing technical data it receives with each report (such as an IP address for the submitting survivor’s computer or their physical location, etc.). However, because I am not a technical expert, it is unclear to me if such data is somehow automatically indexed or catalogued somewhere in the “background.” It is probably safest to assume it is. If a survivor is committed to submitting information but is concerned about such data being automatically transmitted/stored in the submission process, they should consider/research steps that can be taken to address these issues (i.e. using a computer in a public place such as a library).
Is It Really Confidential?
#Me2CSA and Vertigo Charitable Foundation have publicly stated they have every intention of safeguarding the information submitted. That said, anyone making a decision about whether to report should consider that, despite best efforts by #ME2CSA, the information could be obtained by a third-party in the future (either through a legal process or through a security breach). There are numerous examples of institutional defendants seeking information that was “confidentially” submitted to advocacy groups (such as the Catholic Church and its subpoena battles with SNAP). It is likely that, at some point in the future, some powerful institution defending against a civil claim for child abuse will make efforts to obtain the information #ME2CSA received. For example, in a civil case, if a victim testifies in deposition that he reported the abuse to #ME2CSA and the timing of that report is relevant to the statute of limitations. There are arguments against the compelled release of such information by #ME2CSA, but a Court could still decide to issue an order compelling #ME2CSA to produce the information. This does not mean that a survivors should never report to #ME2CSA; rather, survivors considering submitting a report to #ME2CSA should make a fully-informed decision that considers this potential in conjunction with the likelihood of future legal actions (criminal or civil) in their own case, the potential involvement of an aggressive institutional defendant, the impact of a report on technical legal issues (like the statute of limitations), etc. These are issues that a survivor considering reporting should consult about with an attorney.
What Are ME2CSA’s Limitations?
ME2CSA was not designed for survivors who are currently experiencing child sexual abuse. (In other words, this is a site for adults who were abused in the past; not children currently being abused.) Anyone who is aware of a situation involving ongoing child sexual abuse should report it to law enforcement immediately. If you don’t know who to contact, call ChildHelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD.
What About Slander / Libel /Defamation?
Survivors have asked us: “Could a perpetrator sue me for defamation for submitting an abuser ID form?” The short answer is: yes and no.
Defamation is a civil cause of action for making a false statement that damages a person’s reputation. (Slander and libel are types of defamation.) Generally speaking, anyone can file a lawsuit at any time for any reason – courts generally do not vet lawsuits before they are filed. That said, as a general rule, “truth” is a defense to a defamation lawsuit. In other words, if the information you submit is true, proving the truth of that information should prevent an abuser who sues for defamation from prevailing. (Of course, if you find yourself involved in a defamation lawsuit, you should seek independent legal counsel immediately; every situation is different and this article is intended for educational purposes only, not as legal advice.)
What Else Should I Know?
Three other things survivors should keep in mind:
- Optimally, you should seek legal advice before deciding whether to make a report to #ME2CSA, so you can make a fully-informed decision. Even if you have already made a report via #ME2CSA, you should not wait to seek legal advice. You can confidentially speak with an attorney specializing in representing victims of child sexual abuse to get information about your rights. There may be limitations on the amount of time you have to seek justice from your perpetrator and any organizations that allowed the abuse. (Crew Janci LLP provides free confidential consultations with victims of child sexual abuse.)
- Survivors who do submit and “match” on #ME2CSA should take reasonable initial precautions if they choose to contact other anonymous victims. Start with email or telephone call rather than a face-to-face meeting and be careful about how much information you share until you feel comfortable. Unfortunately, it is possible that an interested party who is not a victim (such as perpetrator or their supporters) could submit a “report” in hopes of forcing a “match” and learning information and/or contacting a victim. And remember: the information you share privately with other legitimate users of the site may be obtainable later through a subpoena or deposition if a legal process ensues.
- Finally, if you decide to submit an abuser identification on #ME2CSA and are not notified about a “match,” that does not mean that what happened to you is not important or undermine the legitimacy of your experience. It may be that other victims have not found the courage to come forward yet (or simply have not learned about #ME2CSA). Often times, one victim taking more public action (like calling the police or filing a lawsuit) helps others find the courage to do that same; and the law sometimes provides ways for victims to take such public actions while still protecting their identities (like allowing the use of fictitious names in court documents).
#ME2CSA’s new Abuser ID System is motivated by worthy goals and is an innovative approach to helping survivors. In the right situation, the system could be a helpful tool to empower survivors to share information and support each other, while still respecting survivors’ privacy and need to control their disclosure and decision-making process. As with all innovations, individuals deciding whether to utilize #ME2CSA should make a fully informed decision, including the fact that the innovative system inherently requires entering “uncharted waters.” We applaud Vertigo Charitable Foundation’s commitment to taking action to help survivors and we will be watching closely to see how this develops.