A few days ago, a woman who is a student at Hofstra University accused 5 men of gang rape. She said that they took her cell phone and lured her into a men’s room in a dormatory collective assaulted her. A Fox affiliate tv station in New York reported the story and in the text began by saying that “Five Men Gang Raped an 18 year-old Hofstra University student on campus…” At the end of the sentence, they added “according to police.” Now, technically it is correct and gives attribution but, when the opening statement to the story makes such a declaratory statement that sounds like a fact, unless the entire sentence is read carefully, can be problematic. Let’s face it, people read headlines and often miss details.
As it turns out, the police investigation found that one of the 5 men had recorded the incident on a cell phone. The video supported the men’s story that the entire event was consensual. The “victim” recanted her story to say the incident was not a case of rape. Now, the Miami Herald revealed the news that the charges were dropped and did so with a full photo of one of the accused, who had the charges dropped against him. The others who were jailed also had their names and photos released throughout the media. Yet, they will forever be linked to the accusation which was fabricated. Apparently, police officials are considering filing charges against the woman for filing a false report. Newsday raises five good questions surrounding the entire event and the reprecussions.
However, in my mind, Newsday did not ask a huge question. That is, should the woman’s name be released? The media has always taken the position of not reporting the name of rape victims or those who make accusations of rape. But, routinely the accused get their names released and pictures put in the media prior to any convictions. In this case, there was no rape victim. She is now a suspect in a crime. Should she not have her name released? The woman shown at the right was identified in the Duke LaCrosse Team case when it was found that she made a false report. The men did not commit a crime, yet got their mugs put up everywhere and their names are not connected with a rather ugly charge. Newsday is reporting on how they are coping, but not a word about the suspect in the crime against them. Now, the woman admits that she was not a victim of anything. Should the press continue to protect her identity? Is the press avoiding asking that question of itself and hoping that the public doesn’t ask the same question. Probably a good question for a journalistic ethics or media law class. What do you think?