Crime Victims and the Media; Press Coverage Has a Lasting Impact on Their Lives

By Gersh, Debra | Editor & Publisher, September 26, 1992 | Go to article overview

Crime Victims and the Media; Press Coverage Has a Lasting Impact on Their Lives


Gersh, Debra, Editor & Publisher


Had fate not dealt each a hand that changed her life forever, it is likely that Patricia Bowman and M aria Hanson would never have met.

But they do know each other and, thanks to the media, so does the rest of America.

Hanson was an aspiring actress and model in New York City when her face was brutally slashed at the direction of her former landlord about six years ago -- she needed some 150 stitches to close the wounds. Her story quickly became big news for months and a tv movie was eventually made about her ordeal.

Patricia Bowman also learned quickly about becoming the focus of media attention.

Until she met William Kennedy Smith at a Florida bar, Bowman enjoyed a relatively quiet life. After accusing him of raping her, however, Bowman found the media spotlight turned on her.

Aside from the emotional trauma of the trial, at which Smith was acquitted, Bowman's identity (rape victims names often are not published) was broadcast without her consent on national television and in newspapers around the country, including the New York Times.

Although each woman says she believes in freedom of the press and that egregious behavior by some journalists does not mean all should be tarred and leathered, they nevertheless hold no special place in their hearts for newspeople.

Speaking at a recent American Press Institute forum on the press and privacy issue, Hanson and Bowman were able to speak directly to a number of editors from leading papers across the country.

Bowman spoke out strongly against publishing the names of rape victims, which she said will only prevent women from coming forward. She said the stigma will only be removed through education, not further victimization of the women.

"Put yourself in my shoes for a moment," Bowman said.

"Imagine yourself being raped. Imagine yourself trying to emotionally heal from the crime of rape. Imagine yourself trying to figure out how to tell your one-year-old child that you've been raped, but the media gets there first."

Referring to the New York Times article on her background -- which included "the unforgivable, nor feasibly explainable" decision to reveal her name -- Bowman said, "According to the New York Times, the public has the right to know that I had 17 traffic tickets over a period of 13 years; that my parents were divorced -- 18 years ago; that my daughter's bedroom walls are peach-colored -- they've never been peach-colored.

"The Times even told the titles of the children's books on the shelves in my daughter's room. These book titles are only visible by trespassing on my property, going over shrubbery and voyeuristically, criminally, peering into a one-year-old baby girl's bedroom window.

"Every night... my daughter and I still walk to each and every window in our home and scare the monsters away so that she can go to sleep," Bowman told the editors at API, adding that her daughter is still afraid to have her picture taken.

Bowman was forced to leave her home hidden in the trunk of a car in an attempt to avoid the media camped out on her front lawn, and a pillowcase was placed over her daughter's head so that her photo could not be taken.

"It appeared as if the media from the Gulf war crisis had taken a time out and had taken up permanent residence in my front yard," Bowman recalled.

Citing a study that showed rape victims suffered the most intense fear and anxiety six to 10 days following the attack, Bowman said she was "not given even six days by the media.

"Within 48 hours of the assault committed against me, the doorbell rang, the telephone rang, car doors were slamming outside my home, notes were being passed underneath my door, in my mailbox, people were calling my parents, anyone who could conceivably have known me," she said, adding her biggest fear was that if the media could find her so could the man she said attacked her.

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