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Accusers to be unmasked at Penn State trial
In the wake of that ruling, victims’ organizations pleaded with the public and the media Thursday to exercise restraint.
“Victims everywhere should know that their privacy will be respected when they come forward to reveal intimate details of sexual abuse. They participate in the criminal justice process in an effort to do the right thing and testify about their experiences; they should not have to worry about being publicly targeted when doing so,” said Baker’s group and others said in a statement.
John Giugliano, a clinical social worker and associate professor at Widener University, said victims of childhood sexual abuse can suffer anew when their names are publicized because the most humiliating episode of their lives is suddenly open to public inspection and judgment. Common symptoms of abuse — depression, anxiety, substance abuse, difficulty connecting with others — can flare up or become more severe, he said.
Beth Docherty, who was 15 when her music teacher raped her, said she was grateful her name wasn’t released. Even with the court’s protection, though, a newspaper account contained just enough detail about her identity — that she played flute — that it became known within her school. She said the teacher’s supporters sent her hate mail and broke her windows.
Docherty, now 43 and president of the board of Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, sees parallels with the Sandusky case. Just as she was blamed for reporting her attacker, Docherty said, some Penn State fans have blamed the accusers for football coach Joe Paterno’s firing last fall, just months before his death from cancer.
“You’ve gone through this horrible thing, and you have people who don’t know you blaming you, saying you caused this icon to be brought down. It stays with you. It affects you for a long time,” she said. “Having that identity kept from the public is a little bit of a comfort, so I feel for them. It’s going to be really traumatic, and I give them a lot of credit to still go through with it and not crush and crumble under all the pressure.”
If the victims’ names do become public knowledge during trial, it probably won’t be the result of reporting by the traditional media.
“We have a firm and longstanding policy not to publish the names of victims of sexual crimes without their consent,” Lawrence Beaupre, executive editor of Times-Shamrock Communications, said in an email. The media conglomerate publishes The Times-Tribune in Scranton and several other newspapers and has sent a reporter to the trial.
More than 80 media outlets have been credentialed to cover the trial, from broadcast networks and major newspapers to Internet portals, independent journalists and tiny online news operations, some of which told AP that they, too, plan to withhold the accusers’ names.
At the same time, the issue of whether to shield victims of sex crimes from exposure has launched countless newsroom arguments. Is it fair to the alleged perpetrators to allow accusers to remain anonymous, especially in cases where the charge has turned out to be false? Is such a policy inadvertently perpetuating the notion that victims of sexual abuse have something to be ashamed about?
The Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics does not include a blanket prohibition on using the names of sexual abuse victims; it merely advises news organizations to “be cautious” about identifying them.
Kevin Z. Smith, SPJ’s past president and chairman of its ethics committee, said it is his personal belief that media organizations should reconsider their stand against naming.
“We shouldn’t stigmatize victims of sexual assault,” he said. “I don’t think as a society we do ourselves a favor by ostracizing these people, and I don’t think the press does a helpful job by perpetuating that by saying, ‘We are going to protect you.’”
Even Giugliano, the social worker, said there can be a benefit to testifying in open court. Some victims find it liberating to confront their abuser, he said.
“There can be a very positive effect through all of this, a release of shame, having their voice heard and their day in court, a feeling of being vindicated,” Giugliano said. “Those things can have a very positive, empowering effect.”
Why such hatred toward America's freedom of religion?
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