Unshelved by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum
comic strip overdue media

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Rape, Journalism, and Fair Play

Moving Beyond Naming Names from the Washington Post has an interesting commentary (written, by the way, by a woman) which looks at the practice within 'professional' journalism (as opposed to the blog/talk radio brand) of not naming rape victims--using the high-profile Kobe Bryant case as an example.

She very rightly points out that whilst we protect both perpetrators and victims when they are children (at least until someone makes the decision to try in adult court), rape is the only crime for which an adult may be publically accused but the victim is shielded. And yes, there are women (although really, a rape victim can be male, but that's usually not reported due to a higher stigma for men) who cry foul as a way of revenge, or greed, or yes, even to get attention.

The inconsistency has long bothered me. I had always thought to go the other way, to shield both parties, because of course a rape charge is a terrible stigma in and of itself, and yes, publishing one and not the other already shows a prejudice against someone presumed innocent. But that wouldn't be consistent with other crimes, of course.

On the whole, I think a lot of the attitudes that engendered the rape shield laws have changed so that it may be eventually possible to dispense with the double standard. But, as can be seen in the Bryant case, terrible things can happen as a result of that knowledge. Her questions regarding report of rapes, the re-victimisation, etc. But there is also the very real fact that in today's world of instant news, it's becoming very hard to shield a rape victim. Remember the case outside Lancaster, California where the two girls were kidnapped and there was an Amber alert put out? Of course, the names had to be included, because it could help find them. It was pretty obvious, when they were found, however, that they had been more than physically assaulted, and an official accidentally stated that there was sexual assault. This was a case of failing to protect a rape victim and also failing to protect a minor. But putting out the names and descriptions were the best chance of recovering the girls alive. Once it was known that there had been a sexual assault, various media outlets discontinued the use of the names (and indeed, I remember choosing not to name the girls in my own comments).

But it seems there ought to be a better way. I just don't have any answers myself.

No comments: