Some people argue that journalists should identify victims of rape or sexual assault in news stories because they should be treated like any other crime victims. This position ignores important and unique aspects of the crimes of rape and sexual assault. Although rape and sexual assault occur at an alarming rate in our society, the vast majority of these crimes remain unreported. Victims remain silent because they fear being subjected to the intense public scrutiny and blame that often follow being named in the media. Our culture continues to condemn the victim for rape and, as a result, an extraordinary amount of shame and silence follow the crime. Publicizing the name of a rape complainant under these conditions only deters more victims from coming forward.
As a result, the NAESV urges members of the news media to adopt the following policy on publishing the names of persons who come forward with a change of rape or sexual assault.
It is the policy of this news organization not to publish the names of minors who come forward with allegations of sexual abuse or rape and to avoid reporting stories in such a way that these minors are identifiable. Barring extraordinary circumstances, it is also the policy of this news organization not to publish the names of adults who come forward with allegations of sexual abuse or rape unless those individuals are willing to be named in the media. Members of this news organization will report these stories with sensitivity toward the stigma associated with being publicly named.
Others argue that, until more people are named as sexual assault victims, the stigma attached to being a victim will not fade away. They contend that the news media should therefore publish the names of victims who come forward with allegations as a way to decrease the stigma of rape. The NAESV believes, however, that we should not advance social change on the backs of unwilling and traumatized victims, who have so recently been used for others’ ends.
Fortunately, many brave victims are increasingly willing to be named publicly. Part of their healing process may be to stand up and declare that they have no shame in what has been done to them and that the experience of rape is all too common in this culture. We ask that members of the news media report their stories, which are crucial for our society to hear.