The Danger of Outing Alleged Rape Victims Through Reporting
Newspapers can reveal a woman's identity without printing her name
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.