Creative Destruction

April 20, 2006

Duke Case: Should the Media Be Broadcasting Anyone’s Name?

Filed under: Current Events,Feminist Issues — Ampersand @ 6:22 am

A few days ago, Jeralyn at TalkLeft wrote:

Tomorrow we will learn the names of the Duke lacrosse players accused of criminal activity in the alleged rape case.

Question: When their names are released, shouldn’t the accuser’s be as well? Charges are merely allegations, they are not proof. Why should the accused’s name be public but not the accuser’s?

I can imagine criminal cases in which there’s a genuine public interest in knowing the name of the accused before the trial is over (for instance, if the accused criminal is a politician). But in general, I don’t think the names or faces of the accuser or of the accused should be made public in criminal cases.

I believe that “Mary Doe” (the accuser in the Duke rape case) is telling the truth about being raped. But I might be mistaken about that; and even if I’m right, it’s still possible that these particular two men are innocent.

Now, obviously, some suffering is an inevitable result of being arrested. But having your names and images broadcast on network news is not inevitable; it’s a result of an irresponsible decision make by the networks. If they are found guilty, then the harm done by deferring broadcasting their names and faces until the trial is over is not very great; but if they are innocent, then the harm done to them by the media is both avoidable and significant. So the media should hold off until the trial is over.

As for Jeralyn’s argument in favor of reporting the accuser’s name, it’s nonsense from top to bottom. I suspect that Jeralyn’s argument here is flavored by her not-very-hidden belief that Mary Doe is a liar and a false accuser. But just as it’s wrong to use the media to punish these two men before they’ve actually been found guilty, it would be wrong to use the media to punish Mary Doe for false accusations when she hasn’t been tried and found guilty for that crime.

Furthermore, broadcasting Mary Doe’s face and real name on network news would not mitigate any unjust suffering caused to the two accused rapists, even if they are innocent. This is not a case where two wrongs make a right.

Jeralyn also writes:

If we want people to recognize that rape is a crime of violence, it is not about sex, and are serious about trying to remove the shame and stigma associated with rape, shouldn’t we treat potential rape victims the same as stabbing and shooting victims — whose names are routinely publicized?

First of all, I don’t agree that “rape is a crime of violence, it is not about sex,” especially not in this context. Rape trials should be about accused rapists, not about rape victims. And although I think there’s a lot of truth to saying “rape is about violence and control, not sex” from the victim’s perspective, very often rape is about sex from the rapist’s perspective. Sometimes rape is about violence, control, male-bonding, or some combination; but some rapists rape because they want the sex and don’t give a damn what women want.

Secondly, using rape victims’ names and faces against their will as a means of achieving social change is using rape victims as tools for an end. I’m not convinced that this is a case where ends justify means; surely rape victims have been victimized enough, and had their autonomy ignored enough, already.

Even in a feminist utopia, where the shame and stigma of rape has been removed, I think it’s possible that some rape victims would prefer to avoid publicity (some people don’t like publicity under any circumstances, for instance). That decision should be left up to them.

Finally, being a victim of rape isn’t the same as being stabbed or shot. Defense attorneys in shooting and stabbing cases don’t typically slander and harass the victims in the media; but sometimes they still drag the victims through the mud (the OC rape case is an extreme but illustrative example of this). As bad as this already is, how much more would victims suffer if defense attorneys could use CNN and Foxnews to put victims’ names and images on the air?

Furthermore, at least one major survey of rape victims has found that a major reason most rape victims don’t report their rapes, is that they fear having their rape become public knowledge. That being the case, it seems likely that if networks start broadcasting rape victims’ names and faces, rape victims will become even less likely to report their rapes, and rapists will in turn be less likely to be convicted and punished.

(Some folks will respond “but what about if the ‘victim’ is actually a false accuser”? Well, in that case, publish her name and image after she’s been proved guilty in a courtroom, not before. Claiming that a general policy of harming actual rape victims is justified by the chance to do harm to the occasional false rape accuser, is monstrous).

However, even though rape is different, in general I don’t think the media should report names or faces of either accused or accusers in criminal trials, unless the parties themselves come forward and give permission for their names to be used. The media’s need for lurid reporting isn’t a good enough justification for the obvious harms that reporting names and faces can cause.

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10 Comments »

  1. excellent commentary.

    Comment by cooper — April 20, 2006 @ 1:03 pm | Reply

  2. If the names of rape victims are made public some rape victims will not report the crime. But it is also true that not reporting the names of rape victims may result in a certain number of innocent men being unjustly convicted of rapes that didn’t occur.

    So how many innocent men are you willing to send to jail in order to prevent a certain number of guilty rapists from going unpunished? It is not a question with an easy answer.

    Comment by Ulik — April 20, 2006 @ 3:58 pm | Reply

  3. >

    How do you figure?

    Comment by Mandolin — April 20, 2006 @ 4:54 pm | Reply

  4. But it is also true that not reporting the names of rape victims may result in a certain number of innocent men being unjustly convicted of rapes that didn’t occur.

    Grumble. I meant to copy/paste that. 😉

    Comment by Mandolin — April 20, 2006 @ 4:54 pm | Reply

  5. At a guess, Mandolin, someone might read the name of the accuser and say “I know that person! She’s nuts! She falsely accused people these eleven other times that I know about!” and come forward.

    I don’t know how likely that is; I suppose it is possible.

    Comment by Robert — April 20, 2006 @ 5:07 pm | Reply

  6. “I know that person! She’s nuts! She falsely accused people these eleven other times that I know about!” and come forward.

    I don’t know how likely that is; I suppose it is possible.

    You mean like this type of statement:

    “She told him ‘my sister has deep seated mental problems, she’s a pathological liar, be very careful here. I don’t think this is actual.'” Blagborne told W-FIVE.

    The Mounties should have had other reasons to be suspicious. When they sent Mildred’s written account of the rape to one of their own experts for analysis, the conclusion was that Mildred Johnson was lying.

    [ . . . . ]

    Humble Police Capt. Curtis Mills still has the file on Mildred Johnson and told W-FIVE – after learning of the case against John Hudak in Canada – that he was shocked the Mounties never contacted him.

    “I would say it has a great deal of relevance to their case and I think they would have wanted to know or have this information at hand. But as far as I know we were never contacted by anyone,” said Capt. Mills.

    As they say, read the whole thing.

    Comment by TangoMan — April 20, 2006 @ 6:13 pm | Reply

  7. Then, of course, it would certainly be helpful to know about the background of this woman, (which I found by as a result of my search for the link that I provided in the above comment) if she decided to make an accusation of rape against you.

    Comment by TangoMan — April 20, 2006 @ 6:31 pm | Reply

  8. This post makes perfect sense … as long as you maintain the assumption that our court systems accurately determine the guilt or innocence of the accused. So you have to weigh the harms to the extremely small number of men who are falsely accused, against giving a free pass to the much larger number of guilty men who are found innocent by our patriarchal court system.

    Comment by Stentor — April 20, 2006 @ 9:47 pm | Reply

  9. this accuser [name redacted by Daran] is an obvious liar…[remaining garbage deleted]

    And you’re an obvious jerk. Please go away.

    Comment by mike thomas — December 19, 2006 @ 4:46 pm | Reply

  10. I agree with pretty much everything you have to say here, except this:

    Furthermore, broadcasting Mary Doe’s face and real name on network news would not mitigate any unjust suffering caused to the two accused rapists, even if they are innocent. This is not a case where two wrongs make a right.

    Two wrongs don’t make a right here, but they do make an “even.” When the names of the accused were released, a lot of what I heard in the media centered on the boys’ bad behavior and previous run-ins with the law. Certainly this had to taint the potential jury a bit, especially those predisposed to think them guilty already, which probably includes the entire Durham area outside of the Duke campus.

    The release of the accuser’s name and history may have had the effect of forcing some to consider that maybe, just maybe, these boys are innocent. Not only did this serve to mitigate some of their suffering, but it may be what gets them a fair trial (if this case ever makes it to trial, which seems unlikely unless Nifong enjoys losing high-profile cases).

    That said, no names should have been released in the first place. They never should be. Ever.

    I believe that “Mary Doe” (the accuser in the Duke rape case) is telling the truth about being raped. But I might be mistaken about that; and even if I’m right, it’s still possible that these particular two men are innocent.

    I don’t know enough to have an opinion on whether she is telling the truth or not. Sure, I’ve heard what everyone else has and, based on that, there is no way I could find them guilty in a court of law. Of course, that doesn’t mean she is lying.

    Comment by ebbtide — December 19, 2006 @ 7:10 pm | Reply


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