Magazine article Editor & Publisher
Nothing but Net
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
The Kobe Bryant case raises anew the issue of identifying alleged rape victims. If it's on the Web, should it be in print?
There it was, on one of several Web sites: A photo of a young, blonde woman, her alleged name below, and the claim that she is the accuser of NBA star Kobe Bryant. So what is a reporter supposed to do with this information? In the past, naming alleged victims of rape or sexual assault was a prime media taboo. You just didn't do it. But today, with the Internet offering an avenue for anyone to report anything at any time, it was inevitable that the identity of Bryant's accuser -- along with her address, emotional problems, and possibly her favorite color - - would pop up along the World Wide Web, with plenty of curious Net surfers, and journalists, glad to have (and possibly share) the information.
Does that mean that newspapers should finally abandon their policy of not naming alleged rape victims? If the Internet is going to get the word out to the public, why should print journalists feel the need to keep the name confidential? Already, one nationally syndicated radio talk show host has revealed the alleged victim's name, leading many to believe that it will soon spread through the mainstream media.
"It is no longer practical that newspapers will be able to succeed in keeping the name out of the public domain," said Geneva Overholser, an instructor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, who has long advocated the naming of alleged rape victims as a way to remove the stigma they face. "Not only does the existence of the Internet mean we will not be able to not name the victim, but it also means that it is time that this journalistic aberration is not appropriate."
Overholser, who served as editor of the Des Moines (IA) Register from 1988 to 1995, received national attention in 1990 when the paper published a series looking into the issue of rape, which included identifying a victim who agreed to have her story told. The coverage won a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1991. Today, Overholser contends that naming a sexual assault victim will not only help overcome the stigma of such crimes, but is a more balanced approach to reporting. "It is unfair to allow people to make charges and then have us, as journalists, shield them," she argues. …