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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Mr. Anonymous

Let's start the week with a soft, non-controversial suggestion. News organizations grant women who say they were raped anonymity because being a rape victim is so shameful the woman's life would be ruined forever if her name were known. So, if the crime is that bad, why don't we withhold the name of the accused until it's dtermined whether he's actually guilty or not?

I suppose the first question would be, why do we – generally by default – provide anonymity to anyone involved in a pending criminal case? It seems to be restricted to sexual assault for the most part. You never see a robbery where the name of the accused thieves (or the bank, for that matter) are withheld from the public. But we can have a greater deal of sympathy for a rape victim, as such publicity can be tremendously painful on top of the damage already done.

But what about the damage to accused if the allegations turn out to be false?

[. . .]

It seems as if some measure of equality is called for. If we are to deny the public information about ongoing criminal cases – and in rape trials, there’s clearly an argument to be made in that direction – doesn’t such protection deserve to go both ways?

I don't think rape victims are thought of in quite the way they were when the practice of granting anonymity was first decided on, by the way. They are sledom seen as anything other than very sympathetic figures these days. The time of "Oooh, that fallen women must have been asking for it" is long gone.

But the issue of anonymity is an interesting one. Crime is the only category of news I can think of where we routinely print stuff we know may or may not be true, hedging our bets with a liberal sprinkling of "allegedlies" thrown in. I know it's in the public's interest to know what the person next to them is suspected of doing, but simple justice dicatate's that one's innocence be transmitted as far and widely as the accusations against him. That seldom happens, though, and those falsely accused often have their lives ruined. I don't think the same is quite true for the false accusers.