The woman who is routinely described in the press as "Kobe Bryant's accuser" is now splashed all over the Internet. A major syndicated talk show host in Los Angeles publicly identified her. Editors at major newspapers are rethinking their policies against identifying victims of rape: "It's kind of a conceit that we in the mainstream media are the gatekeepers we used to be," Geneva Overholser, a former editor of The Des Moines Register and former Washington Post ombudsman, told The Boston Globe. "It's an untenable situation to name the accused and not the accuser ... I really believe it's a fairly paternalistic thing."
So far that quaint old idea of journalistic ethics seems to be holding. As of July 24, according to a Globe survey, there is still "widespread adherence to the guideline that keeps the accuser's name out of the news. Even given the highly charged Bryant case, which is certain to generate major coverage, spokesmen for CBS, MSNBC/NBC, ABC and CNN all said yesterday their policy was to avoid identifying the alleged victim without consent."
Should these rape shields hold?
My first thought is no. To charge a person with a crime is a public act. The right of the accused to face his or her accuser is fundamental. Women (or men) who seek to use the power of the state to incarcerate a fellow citizen have to be prepared to do so publicly. It is simple fairness.
Moreover, I do not believe it is true that rape victims are still deeply stigmatized. I don't think Americans would refuse to do business with, or become friends with, or honor with community leadership, or marry a woman who had been raped. To shield the name of rape victims is a "fairly paternalistic thing."
On the other hand, rape IS a crime unlike any other: a deeply painful invasion of a woman's sense of self, the meaning of her sexuality, that can leave long-lasting psychic scars. "That's like being raped again," Dr. Patricia Saunders, director of Graham Windham Manhattan Medical Center in New York City, told Reuters about the media onslaught. "It's an intrusion. It's an utter violation of her right to privacy. It's a sadistic thing to do."
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.