Rape, a heinous crime committed against women involves forced intercourse which causes physical and psychological pain to the victim. The aftermath of the crime can continue to be a cause of distress for the victim as a result of police investigations. Rape has a stigma surrounding it and the attention which rape victims receive makes it hard for them to get back to their daily lives. The shame associated with rape attracts unwanted public and media attention, making victims susceptible to more psychological distress.
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There is an ongoing debate between the protection of rape victims’ individual’s right to privacy and the right to freedom of press guaranteed by the first and fourteenth amendments (Denno 1993, p. 1115-1116). The issue of revealing a rape victim’s identity is a matter of controversy. Proponents argue that information about the rape victim should be disseminated in an honest and truthful manner while opponents assert that the identity of rape victims should not be revealed given the serious nature of the crime.
However, research and studies indicate that rape victims could receive “negative reactions from formal support providers” which could be “particularly harmful for them” (Ahrens 2006, p. 264). The media does practice voluntary restraint when reporting rape crimes; however, there is no law governing the disclosure of rape victims.
Some states such as South Carolina, Florida and Georgia have statutes which prohibit media companies from publicly announcing the names of alleged rape victims (Denno 1993, p. 1115). However, the lack of concrete laws preventing disclosure of rape victims’ identities has sparked a conflict. Some journalists debate that disclosure of victims is an important obligation for maintaining the accuracy and credibility of news.
Overholser (1989) asserts that since “rape is an American shame” it is not appropriate to “hide” or “hush it up” (para 15). She further adds that it should be revealed in all honesty to the public since hiding information related to rape will only result in muting “public outrage”(Overholser 1989, para 15).
Overholser’s strong position in favour of revealing the names of rape victims stems from her belief that an act of non disclosure will only undermine the serious nature of the crime and promote shame for the victim. Moreover, underreporting is tantamount to silence and an indication of shame to the innocent victim. She asserts that in order to remove the stigma associated with rape it is important to treat is as any other crime and report the news in all honesty (Overholser 1989, para 5).
She states that rape should be treated equally like other crimes such as abortion and murder so that public awareness will increase and the rate of rape crimes will reduce. She urges women who have suffered from this “awful crime” to speak up, and “identify themselves” so that the stigma associated with rape can be eradicated (Overholser 1989, para 12).
On the other hand, some scholars argue that rape victims have already been through an ordeal due to the heinous crime and do not bear the responsibility of removing the stigma attached to rape by disclosing their identities and compromising their right to privacy. Analysts who vouch for the non disclosure of rape victims’ identities base their stance on the stigma and trauma associated with rape. There is an ongoing debate about the consequences of revealing a rape victim’s personal details.
Research indicates that victims could receive negative reactions such as blaming the victims for the crime (Ahrens, 2006). When victims of rape are subjected to blame, they feel doubly victimized (Campbell, 1998). Research also confirms that rape victims’ apprehend public disclosure due to the fear of rejection by friends and family since “the great majority of rapes are committed by an acquaintance or relative and, therefore, the consent of the victim is often presumed” (Denno 1993, p. 1125).
Studies indicate that 71% victims had concerns about their identity being disclosed to their family, 69% worried that society would blame them for the crime while 68% expressed fears of invasion of privacy from outsiders upon disclosure of their names in public (Denno 1993, p. 1125).
A National Women’s Study affirms that majority of the women in the United States favour a legislation to ban the media from publicly disclosing personal information about rape victims (Denno 1993, p. 1130). Many rape cases are not reported to the police due to the stigma associated with the crime and the embarrassment it brings to the victim. Non disclosure of names could serve to be an added incentive to victims to report rape cases without the fear public exposure.
Both proponents and opponents of the debate surrounding the disclosure of the victims in rape cases hold justifiable views. Naming a rape victim could cause problems like trauma and shame to the accused. Hence, in the best interest of the victim and the accused, I support the view that names of rape victims should not be revealed to the general public.
Privacy of victims remains to be a primary cause for concern in rape crimes while journalists press for disclosure of victims based on the right to freedom of press. So far the media has not been held accountable for disclosure of rape victims’ identities. However, considering the serious nature of the crime and the trauma associated with it, serious thought should be given to state legislation for protection of victims’ privacy.
Ahrens, Courtney. “Being silenced: The impact of negative social reactions on the disclosure of rape.” American Journal of Community Psychology 38 (2006): 263-274. Web.
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Campbell, Rebecca. “The community response to rape: Victims’ experiences with the legal, medical, and mental health systems”. American Journal of Community Psychology 26 (1998): 355-379. Web.
Denno, Deborah W. “Perspectives on Disclosing Rape Victims’ Names”. Fordham Law Review. 61.5 (1993) Web. <https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=3032&context=flr>
Overholser, Geneva. “Why Hide Rapes?” New York Times. 11 Jul. 1989. Web. <https://www.nytimes.com/1989/07/11/opinion/why-hide-rapes.html?mtrref=undefined&gwh=2F7D4C4EE92E4C6BD958CD9409FCD80C&gwt=pay&assetType=REGIWALL>