The Danger of Outing Alleged Rape Victims Through Reporting

By Jeffrey Goldberg

From the Times' coverage of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn matter:

The (alleged victim) lives in the Bronx with a daughter who is in her teens. The building's superintendent said she moved in a few months ago.

"They're good people," said one neighbor, another African immigrant. "Every time I see her I'm happy because we're both from Africa. She's never given a problem for nobody. Never noisy. Everything nice."

At the Sofitel New York, a maid, who refused to give her name, described the woman as friendly. "In the world, she is a good person," she said.

I don't understand reporting like this. What is the point? Does it matter that she is friendly? Does it matter that she is a good person? Does it matter that she has never been a problem? Of course not. Rape is rape. The character of the victim is irrelevant. There's one caveat to this idea: If reporters had discovered in the woman's past a pattern of making false accusations in criminal matters, well, then there's a plausible argument that information about her character should be reported. Otherwise, her mood, relative-friendliness or unfriendliness, shopping habits, dietary needs -- all completely immaterial.

One more thing: Reporters should think twice about visiting the neighborhood of an alleged rape victim in order to ask questions about her life and character. The unintended consequence of such a visit is to publicize, in the place where she lives, her plight, and raise possibly-destructive questions about her situation. Newspapers withhold the names of alleged rape victims for a reason: to protect their privacy. But when reporters ask family, friends and neighbors superfluous questions about the alleged rape victim, they have outed her in the place that matters most.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/05/the-danger-of-outing-alleged-rape-victims-through-reporting/238929/