Why Slate.fr Published the DSK Accuser's Name

The American media are sticking to their standard no-release policy

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In France, we recently learned, showing the accused in handcuffs is a no-no (DSK's lawyers may be suing the French papers that published the "perp walk" photos). Releasing an alleged assault victim's name, however, is just fine.

Or so it seems. Yesterday the Daily Mail and the New York Daily News were two of several outlets to interview the family of Domonique Strauss-Kahn's accuser, the hotel maid who said he had assaulted her. Though both outlets published plenty of detail about the alleged victim and her family, they left out the names, as is the media custom in the U.S. As of yesterday afternoon, however, Slate.fr had a top-page story naming the victim. A post on Slate.com, in the U.S., noted at 5:52 yesterday that the name was being publicized by multiple outlets:

Among the outlets to identify the woman by name are: Paris Match, radio station RMC, Swiss newspaper Tribune de Genève, and Slate.fr.

Slate.fr is a French website that is editorially independent from Slate, although Slate does own 15 percent of it."

The piece in the Tribune de Genève, though, appears to be written by the same author as the Slate.fr piece: Sabine Cessou. So what's going on here? The publication is all the more perplexing because American media are sticking to their policy, the Associated Press variously insisting--in articles after the French pieces revealing the accuser's name, though not referring to them directly--that their organization "generally does not name people alleging sexual assault" and "does not name victims of alleged sex crimes unless they agree to it."

We emailed Eric Leser, one of the founders of Slate.fr, to ask about the decision to splash the name of an alleged victim of a sexual assault on the front page. "We have done this,"  he explained, "just [to stop] the conspiracy theory in France about this case and to stop the false accusation against the victim that she's doing [this] for money or she's a prostitute and things like that. The story that we have published is proving that all of [these] theories are false. That's our main reason."

It's certainly true that French public figures have been insisting the entire accusation is a set-up. Right now, a quick Google News search shows several publications following Slate.fr's example in naming the alleged victim. So far, though, the trend seems largely confined to the French, Italian, and Spanish-speaking worlds.

Update: Mallary Jean Tenore at Poynter also looked into Slate.fr's reasoning and posted a translation of a statement from Slate.fr co-founder and editor-in-chief Johan Hufnagel.* His explanation is similar to Leser's--that the release was actually intended to "protect the woman from 'from rumors, accusations held against her and other conspiracy theories that were running wild about her.'" Here's a particularly fascinating excerpt:

Hufnagel also said that because the woman's name is "common," it seemed more justifiable to publish it.

"That name might seem to a lot of our readers like a rare one, but it is not a case among inhabitants of Guinea," he said. "The name of this woman is as common in parts of West Africa as 'Françoise Martin' in France or 'Jane Smith' in the United States. A quick look at Facebook makes it pretty clear. We would probably have acted differently if her name had been less common."

*This post originally suggested that Poynter had received a direct response from Hufnagel.

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