Sunday, April 22, 2007

Naming the Accuser

[posted by Callimachus]

Here's a painful one: Now that the Duke lacrosse case has been closed with an emphatic finding of no rape, is the accuser still to be shielded by journalistic anonymity?

New York Times ombudsman say yes, with reservations:

Some readers have called for The Times to name [the accuser] now that the three accused young men have been declared innocent. A few of the readers appear to think it would be good journalism, but others seem to be more interested in retribution or punishment for causing the falsely accused so much grief.

Times editors discussed whether “to stick to our policy of not naming accusers in sexual assault cases,” Mr. Keller told me, “and decided to do so.” My first instinct was that The Times should strongly consider adopting a policy of naming false accusers. Then I decided that the mental health of the Duke accuser and the failure of Mr. Nifong to limit the harm she caused by doing his job responsibly combined to keep this case from being a good one on which to debate such a policy change. But I hope Times editors will soon consider holding a discussion, free of deadline pressure, about what purpose the tradition of not naming sexual assault victims serves when their accusations are proved to have no merit.

I can consider this question as a man (i.e. as a potential subject of such a false accusation). Or as the son, wife, brother, and father of women. Or as a journalist. And I might get three different answers with each approach.

I'm impressed by the firm but sensible stand on this taken by Talkleft:

The moment the charges were dismissed, upon the Attorney General's finding there was no credible evidence to support her claim that any attack occurred that night, she became a false accuser. Her name should be published so that she can no longer hide behind the victim label. Mentally ill or not, she caused incalculable damage to the lives and reputations of three innocent young men, who will be traumatized by the ordeal for years to come.

She's not being charged with false reporting because her mental state may be such that she actually believes in her inconsistent versions of events that never happened. That's enough of a benefit. There should be consequences. If she's not going to be charged with a crime, then publishing her name as a deterrent to others is appropriate in my view.

Alternatively, as I've suggested many times, the media should adopt an either or both policy: If they publish the name of the accused, they should publish the name of the accuser. If they won't publish the name of the accuser, they shouldn't publish the name of the accused.

Rape is a crime of violence, similar to a stabbing. Once it is viewed as such by the public, it could lead to a lessening of an actual victim's perceived shame or reticence in reporting it.

That bit beginning with "Alternatively" comes closest of anything to satisfying the three people inside me who look at this question.

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