Saturday, November 10, 2007

Victim Blaming In Discussion About Naming Alleged Rape Victims

From News Observer

In the wake of the Duke lacrosse case, the policy of not identifying sex crime accusers is under review at The N&O. An internal committee is looking at issues such as whether accusers should be identified or, if not, whether the accused also should be shielded.

There is a good bit of sentiment both within the paper and outside for identifying accusers, out of fairness to the accused who routinely are identified when charged. Other arguments: Newspapers are in the business of providing information, not withholding it, and shielding victims contributes to the social stigma attached to sexual assault cases.

"We have an awareness that by shielding women in that way, you perpetuate the stigma," said Sarah Avery, the editor heading the internal review. "But we also know that the stigma does exist" and that many victims don't have the fortitude of a Cynthia Morton to put themselves in the public eye.

This rationale supports a negative assessment of any alleged rape victim who doesn't agree to be named. It says that if one rape case goes south that the newspaper is considering making all rape victims be treated as if they are either liars or non-credible.

That's a very dangerous attitude as it perpetuates the very stigma against alleged rape victims that the News Observer editor says she opposes.

It also opens the door for stories ("providing information, not withholding it") on the alleged victims which in reality are character assassination pieces complete with the victim's name. It would tell those who are raped that if they report rape, they can have every detail of their lives used or misused if a reporter finds the alleged rapist sympathetic.

Rapists would love this.

Too many people who claim to be against news stories that pre-judge alleged rapists are rabidly for pre-judging alleged rape victims. This is already done by newspapers reprinting unverified statements of fact made by defendants and defense attorneys. The only protection that most rape victims get from these attacks is that they are not named.

The potential change in policy would strip that fragile protection away.

Shielding alleged rape victims names unless explicit permission is given does NOT perpetuate the stigma associated with being raped. Those who report rape are often very vulnerable -- and I'm not talking internally. Witness tampering is a huge problem in many rape cases which can be made even worse if the alleged victim's name is published.

When the alleged rapists are popular, the physical danger to the alleged victims goes way up. A fan of Kobe Bryant was convicted of trying to have the alleged victim in that rape case murdered. To ignore dangers like this is incompetent at best and negligent at worst.

The woman who agreed to be named has the lauded "fortitude" partly because her rape happened 15 years ago and she doesn't feel revealing her name will put her or her family in danger. She has made the choice to help others who are raped and part of that choice is revealing her identity.

Other rape survivors also have fortitude and still choose to maintain their privacy. They are doing nothing wrong by making this choice. They should not have that choice taken away from them. For any of those who say that alleged rape victims names should be published, you are welcome to allow your name to be used if you report rape.

Rather than not naming alleged rapists, papers should consider not including anything except the status of the case until the case is resolved if they want to maintain neutrality. That would mean instituting a policy of no interviews with defense attorneys, no interviews with defendants, no negative characterization of anyone involved in the case and no statements by anyone that cannot be verified as fact.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:02 AM   0 comments links to this post


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