Why don’t we name victims of rape?

WASHINGTON — After weeks of professed certainty, New York City prosecutors have recently admitted significant doubts about the case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the influential French banker accused of raping a hotel maid in May. In many ways, the controversy swirling about the case is no different from countless others in which the court of public opinion has rendered a verdict with which a jury might disagree. (Has anyone ever heard of Casey Anthony?)

But there is one profound difference between this case and many others that briefly consume public attention in the cable news age: The alleged victim has not been named by major U.S. news media organizations. We have read and heard much about her, including the country of her birth, her immigrant journey and her current associates. Still, her name and photograph, while readily found online, have not been routinely used in news stories.

Because of common mores and lingering misunderstandings about human sexuality, sexual assault occupies a peculiar place in the criminal justice system. It is that rare criminal dispute which casts harsh shadows not only on the accused but upon the accuser, as well.

For that reason, most reputable news organizations don’t reveal the names of rape victims unless they give explicit permission. And some refuse to name the victim even with her consent, believing that using her name will add to her trauma.

But that longstanding practice may only serve to perpetuate the notion that rape is a crime apart, deserving of some secrecy. If news organizations name those who claim to have been robbed, defrauded or beaten bloody in a back alley, shouldn’t we consider treating sexual assaults in the same way?

I’ve argued over the years that shielding alleged victims of rape only adds to the sense of stigma — fueling the notion that they have somehow been tarnished. In 2005, I tried to persuade an Atlanta woman who had been raped by her ex-boyfriend to allow me to interview her and use her name.

She was the ex-girlfriend of Brian Nichols, who became a household name after his jailbreak was accompanied by a killing spree. He was on trial a second time for the rape when he overwhelmed a guard and broke free.

His victim didn’t agree to the interview, but I admired the courage she showed in enduring a second trial. (Nichols got a mistrial the first time.) Did we protect her by withholding her name? I doubt it. Instead, we simply perpetuated a set of wrong-headed cultural assumptions.

But the Strauss-Kahn case highlights another set of assumptions. The protective bubble around the hotel maid encourages a presumption that she is, indeed, a victim.

University of Southern California journalism professor Geneva Overholser, a former newspaper editor, has long argued that news media organizations should reconsider the practice of withholding the names of alleged victims of sexual assault. (We corresponded several months ago, before the Strauss-Kahn arrest.)

“We value name identification in journalism for all kinds of reasons — accuracy and verifiability prime among them— and we should not exempt only these adult victims of crime,” Overholser wrote me in an e-mail.  “Second, we are not in a position to judge guilt or innocence, which we imply when we ‘protect’ one party . . but name the other. . .Third, it has become virtually meaningless in the digital era to offer this ‘protection’ since facts will out.”

How very true. Strauss-Kahn’s accuser has been identified by bloggers and online gossips. More to the point, she has recounted her version of events to colleagues and close friends, so those most important to her already know that she’s at the center of the story.

Here’s hoping Strauss-Kahn and his accuser have their day in court so a jury can render a verdict based on evidence. And let’s hope, as well, that major news outlets stop behaving as if there is some reason to shield her.

70 comments Add your comment

kat

July 13th, 2011
11:23 am

understanding the profound psychological effects that such an attack can have I actually tend to believe that the best practice is to get consent from the victim to use her name. and I very rarely agree with any of the practices of the mainstream media and have serious concerns about journalistic integrity. this particular practice, however, I believe to be quite honorable. just because the media is less honorable and less compassionate and more invasive when reporting news of other crimes does not necessitate that they apply those tactics to reporting rape. perhaps it means that they should be equally as thoughtful when reporting on victims of other crimes as well.

arnold

July 13th, 2011
11:23 am

I am tired of hearing how someone is guilty before a trial. Casey Anthony is a point. Everyone involved in a crime should be just as visible as the accused. However, wait for the trial. If there ever is one. Then let a jury make the final judgment.

georgette

July 13th, 2011
11:33 am

Perhaps withholding names of the alleged victim and the accused would make the process more fair.

Meli

July 13th, 2011
11:45 am

The rule on naming rape victims was created back in the days before the internet, to protect them from harassment and intimidation either from family and friends of the accused, or those who simply wanted their 15 minutes of fame. Do you think with the advent of the internet and the blogosphere, where people think they can simply say and do whatever they feel like and there are no consquences, that the victims of rape would not get much worse now? A woman accused Kobe Bryant of raping her several years ago and the shield rules still being applied didn’t stop tabloid mentality from learning who she was and harassing and intimidating her into dropping the charges. I’m sorry if the Shield Rule bothers you so much, Ms. Tucker. If you don’t like it, maybe you should resign your post at the AJC and go work for one of Rupert Murdoch’s news organizations, where they tap the phone lines of crime victims to get their scoops. I’m sure Mr. Murdoch would be willing to look the other way if you wanted to name the victim of a rape and proceed to make her out to be the Slut of the Universe to sell a few more papers.

B Cosby

July 13th, 2011
11:48 am

In March 2006 Crystal Gail Mangum, an African American student at North Carolina Central University who worked as a stripper, dancer and escort falsely accused three white Duke University students, members of the Duke Blue Devils men’s lacrosse team, of raping her at a party held at the house of two team’s captains in Durham, North Carolina on March 13, 2006.
On April 11, 2007, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper dropped all charges and declared the three players innocent. Cooper stated that the charged players – Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and David Evans – were victims of a “tragic rush to accuse.”

– Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and David Evans – were victims of rape by the media and the black community simply because they are white. The media did not have a problem naming them. The same could go for Strauss-Kahn. Where is Crystal Mangum now?

Thomas

July 13th, 2011
11:50 am

Enter your comments here

Stonethrower

July 13th, 2011
11:52 am

So, if a man were to be raped by another man or group of men, would we protect his identity?

Stonethrower

July 13th, 2011
11:55 am

Didn’t take long for race to become an issue here now did it Bill? White males have suddenly become victims? Oh the horror!

Rafe Hollister

July 13th, 2011
11:58 am

I don’t agree with the premise of releasing the names of the rape victims, however, when I read your headline my first thought was I can name the most frequent victim of rape, the American Taxpayer.

Kuntchak

July 13th, 2011
12:01 pm

I’ve decided to basically ignore the headline and content of CT’s articles b/c of the general absurdity of the majority of them. However, the teachers/test score scandal seems interesting right now. What a bunch of low-lifes these peole are, right? As I see it they are scum for 2 reasons: they didn’t educate the kids, which should be their primary objective as teachers and they used their energies instead to game the system to evntually benefit them financially.

This is another example of government funds being abused, wasted or outright stolen. So why oh why should we continue to pay more and more and more money each year into government run proframs that never live up to the original expectations and always cost more than expected? Sure you can point to scams and fraud in the private secor, but come on, the government and a lot fo the mouth breathers that are emplyed by the government can’t be trusted with our money.

That being said, everytime there is someone in pain, some new cause, some disaster, some chart showing a certain group of people are less than average at this or that. The first thing we do is say ” I know, let’s pour a bunch of our tax dollars into a govt run program to fix things. When in reality that is the last thing we should do.

I didn’t used to subscribe to the entitlement mentality that gets tossed around a lot, but we are a nation of cheaters, liars, scammers, all the while with our hands out asking for more from our govt. You know who you are, stop doing this, and start CONTRIBUTING instead of taking and complaining.

And CT – stop promoting this downward spiral for your supporters, you are not doing them any favors but instead leading them towards poverty, welfare, single parent households, and jail.

ByteMe

July 13th, 2011
12:10 pm

I think it needs to go further: publish the “victim’s” name, but also refuse to allow defense lawyers to probe the victim’s sexual history as part of their case. It’s a crime of power, not crime of sex. It’s like having the defense lawyer probing whether you’ve had money stolen from you in the past by pickpockets to prove their client is not a pickpocket and you deserved it anyway.

carlosgvv

July 13th, 2011
12:15 pm

Many rape victims have had the most unpleasant experience of having to undergo savage and brutal cross examanations on the stand by defense attorneys who will use every legal cheap trick in the book to defend their clients. Because of this, it’s no wonder many women won’t report rapes and certainly don’t want their identies made public because of what they percieve as legal persecution.

Jimmy62

July 13th, 2011
12:17 pm

Don’t forget the Duke lacrosse players, where their names were smeared all over the press, and made guilty long before the case came to court. Turns out the “victim” lied, but I barely saw her name mentioned after that, and saw even fewer people apologizing to the lacrosse players for all the horrible things said about them.

Rape accusations are a big, big deal, and a very sensitive subject. Not having been a victim of such a thing, nor knowing anyone who has, I can’t say I’m qualified to get in the head of an actual victim. But I do think if it turns out the “victim” made the whole thing up, the law should come down on them every bit as hard as it would come down on a convicted rapist.

williebkind

July 13th, 2011
12:23 pm

If rape is a crime of violence then what is sex crimes? A crime of power? I have heard that for a long time and I have never believed it but of course I am not a social engineer nor do I change the meaning of the constitution because someone wants to change their behavior from founding tradional values. Is it working for our schools today?
I should know the name of the accuser and the details of what I am being accused. Gag orders and shield rules do not protect the victim but just gives credence to finatics like code pink.

Chris Matthews

July 13th, 2011
12:41 pm

THIS ALL YOU GOT GIRL! CAN’T BELIEVE THEY PAY YOU TO WRITE THIS NONSENSE!!

John Daly

July 13th, 2011
12:44 pm

Cynthia seems to ignore that, in both the DSK and Duke lacrosse players cases, the accusers were found to have been lying. Just not by the media but by the justice system.

Hines Ward

July 13th, 2011
12:44 pm

Why would every law-abiding American citizen who has been hand-raped and eye-raped by those knuckle-dragging TSA screeners at Hartsfield-Jackson want their names in the paper in a itemized report of rape incidents?

Besides that, after my weekend in a DeKalb County jail and what happened to me there, I don’t want my name in the paper any more that it already is.

mmm, mmm, mmm, Barack the LIAR Obama - BEND OVER, Here comes the CHANGE!

July 13th, 2011
1:02 pm

Cynthia, what would be the point of naming the rape victims?

Nameless

July 13th, 2011
1:03 pm

Cynthia, if you were ever the victim of rape, you would not need to ask this question. Thank your lucky stars. At 17, I was raped my freshman year in college and I was so ashamed that I did not even bother to press charges. I did not want my parents to know I had been drinking, I did not want people to look at me as a victim, I did not want to get harrassed by his frat brothers and friends. It was personal and it was scary. I was 32 years old when I finally told my father. To this day, I have never told my mother. Sadly, some people “cry wolf,” but that does not mean true victims of rape should have to have their names dragged through the media. It takes a lot of courage to come forward, courage that I wish I had at 17. With the threat of having their names exposed, rape victims would almost never come forward.

Richard

July 13th, 2011
1:24 pm

Since we’re supposedly innocent until proven guilty in this country, I think the media would be more ethical to withhold both the victim’s and the accused’s name.

OH GOD

July 13th, 2011
1:25 pm

If you start to name the victims of rape in the media, and in todays world of instant gratification, how many of these young females who are starving for attention would go out and have consensual sex, then claim they were raped, just so they could be mention on TV ??? IF the story gets big enough, her bank account would also get bigger.

I am not saying that women do not get raped, it happens all of the time, but, if you started naming the victims, I am certian that the number of rape charges will dramatically increase.

WOODSTOCK MIKE

July 13th, 2011
1:50 pm

With everything going on in the world this is what Cynthia Tucker (Pulitzer Prize winner) writes about. If I was a woman and got raped the last thing I would want is for my name to be given. This is one sad article.

Alice

July 13th, 2011
1:50 pm

I can’t even believe you said that. First you were rejoicing in Strauss-Kahn being humiliated in the “perp walk”, not even considering he may be innocent. Even if there was DNA on her blouse, all that proves is that a sexual encounter took place, not that it was forcible. And now you want to name rape victims. Whether or not they should feel shame or not, the fact remains many do feel a sense of shame and many already do not report sexual assault because of that.

How about we treat everyone with dignity and respect and treat them the way we would like to be treated. I can see no valid reason whatsoever to identify victims of rape in the media.

Pablo

July 13th, 2011
1:54 pm

Cynthia:

You raise a number of good points in your column, but I am conflicted whether to agree with you or not, since rape is such a violent and abhorrent act commited against people (both male and female) who sometimes, for whatever reason, have to live with the double injury of being raped and then comdemned for it.

I guess the victim and the public’s interest could be well served if the name of the victim is used by the media only with his or her permission, and by a media who exercises restraint in how it approaches such a difficult subject. Good column.

L. Hill

July 13th, 2011
1:55 pm

We live in a tell all society, where we open the door to everything and everyone. This to me is not even something that we should consider. All our intellect and freedom has caused us to override, in many circumstances, good common sense. Nowadays, common sense is not so common as this article shows. Unless the (alleged) rape victim gives express consent or permission for her name to be used, don’t use it. Also, to address another misnomer regarding this issue … rape is most definitively a crime of control (power) AND SEX, since that brutality is displayed through the use of sexual aggression (rape).

Bryan G.

July 13th, 2011
1:58 pm

I think it’s sad that rape accusers don’t get named while Defendants get named and dragged through the mud. It’s unfair – especially in cases like Kobe’s and DSK’s. They get the lifetime stigma of being accused and the accuser gets to live in the shadows

Liberal Chicks are UGLY

July 13th, 2011
2:08 pm

You’re an idiot. Plain and simple. There just is no other way to put it.

Rape stats

July 13th, 2011
2:32 pm

If Cynthia is writing about it one can only surmise that she wants rape victims identified because of race. According to the FBI uniform crime statistics and the national crime victim survey there are something like 30-50 black women per year raped by white men and on average 3,000 or more white women per year raped by black men. Given her racism its only sensible to think that Cynthia knows these stats and wants a way to keep more black men out of jail for their crimes. Its the only thing that makes sense given her penchant for racism.

B Cosby

July 13th, 2011
2:39 pm

Rape stats, good point. CT is always looking to throw the card.

stands for decibels

July 13th, 2011
2:44 pm

Thought provoking piece, CT–actually, I’ve long wondered why both accusers and accused have their names dragged around in the press before going to trial. God forbid that bloodthirsty readers/news consumers should have to wait until the legal process runs its course before making their judgement.

Greg

July 13th, 2011
2:54 pm

Why not name juvenile offenders, too? We’ve gone way too far down the road of invading people’s privacy under the guise of wanting to know everything.

Rape is a personal crime like no other. One person invades the body of another. Its not like stealing money. Give me a break, if the woman or man wants to maintain some privacy we ought to be decent enough to let them alone.

Mountain Man

July 13th, 2011
3:09 pm

I’m with Woodstock Mike. You haven’t written an article in two weeks and you come back writing about some French dude and rape victims. It says you write political commentary. What’s politcial aboutt this? Oh, the French dude is not going to run for some euro office. Who cares!

Kamchak

July 13th, 2011
3:13 pm

I’ve decided to basically ignore the headline and content of CT’s articles b/c of the general absurdity of the majority of them. However, the teachers/test score scandal seems interesting right now.

blogspot.com is ready when you are, sport.

DJ Sniper

July 13th, 2011
3:21 pm

I wonder why is it that people who say they can’t stand CT and her articles continue to frequent this blog in the first place.

Also, for those who wondered about Crystal Magnum, she’s probably in jail right now. She stabbed her boyfriend a few months ago, and he died a few days later, so she’s looking at a murder rap right about now.

Meka

July 13th, 2011
3:35 pm

Have missed your Articles, Cynthia. Glad to see you back!

stands for decibels

July 13th, 2011
3:46 pm

I wonder why is it that people who say they can’t stand CT and her articles continue to frequent this blog in the first place.

I suspect the answer is found somewhere in here.

The Outlaw Josey Wales

July 13th, 2011
4:21 pm

Classic Tucker…rape victims must show ID, voters must not. Just classic.

Pat

July 13th, 2011
4:22 pm

Is this a joke? Do you really want to forcibly put victim’s names out in the public, when he/she does not want to cause anymore trauma to themselves? That makes no sense.

Not at the Trough

July 13th, 2011
4:23 pm

Might be a good idea. Then if this so called “victim” had tried this scam before, then she would be “outed” and her credibility shot. I like it.

The Outlaw Josey Wales

July 13th, 2011
4:25 pm

Remember that Richard Jewell dude that the AJC and other local media basicaly convicted of the Olympic Park bombing back in 1996?

williebkind

July 13th, 2011
4:29 pm

Speaking of rape! Obama is trying to take over our food production.
White House Executive Order #13575 White House Rural Council. Why was this not in the news or on the blogs in GA. Another smoke filled locked backroom deal.

The Welshman Josey's Inlaw

July 13th, 2011
4:39 pm

I blame the lamestream media.

Peadawg

July 13th, 2011
4:45 pm

Why don’t you just go away, Cynthia. You’re columns are getting worse each time. All I read was the title and that’s all I need to know.

Since the last Harry Potter film comes out this week….**points wand at Cynthia and says “Evanesco!”**

(For those of you who don’t know, Evanesco is a spell in Harry Potter that makes the target disappear.)

Tommy Maddox

July 13th, 2011
4:53 pm

Maybe I just don’t understand the mind of a commentator. What purpose on a personal level would it serve you to know the names of the victims of one of the most heinous crimes on Earth?

Rockerbabe

July 13th, 2011
4:58 pm

Actually, I think a lot of folks are of two minds on this issue. In the not so distant past, a woman’s worth was often measured by her “sexual purity” and in some quarters, that outdated notion is applies. A woman’s worth is the same as a man’s worth and it should have absolutely nothing to do with seeking justice for such a horrific assault on one’s body and person. But then again, we still have the “old boy network going strongs” and the winking and nodding often are just a way to get around giving women their day in court.

I think getting consent to name both the victim and accuser would be a good idea and might just take away some of the shame attached to this violent crime.

Chief

July 13th, 2011
5:02 pm

I find it funny (in a sad way) how obvious it is that many of the posters here never bothered to read the article. Too eager to rail and disagree with CT than to take the time to hear her position.

Chief

July 13th, 2011
5:13 pm

Hey Peadawg – you came here, buddy. If you don’t like her work don’t click on her column.

ByteMe

July 13th, 2011
5:32 pm

One person invades the body of another.

Sort-of like the way the anti-abortion crowd want government to force women to have babies.

online reader

July 13th, 2011
5:37 pm

They withheld the name of the gentleman assaulted by his wife (she cut off part of his anatomy) so yes, not naming victims of sexual assault does include male and female.

Kuntchak

July 13th, 2011
5:44 pm

CT- I thought everyone is a victim of some sort in our country, so if you want to know the name of a victim just turn to any page in the phonebook.

It’s a waste of time to actually read CT’s articles, it’s more effective (and fun) to use my time to point out her shortcommings as a writer, thinker, economist, and historian, then watch her brain-dead followers try to defend her tragic points.

Kammy – i know it’s been a while, you must be all pent up inside without your african queen not posting in a while, so I left some typos for you to fix, weirdo.