The day after she was raped in an abandoned Brooklyn factory district six years ago, Sherry Price bought an oversized pair of sunglasses.
She was looking for protection, taking cover until some order could be made of the violation she endured that rainy June evening. It was weeks before the spinning stopped, months before she felt safe leaving her house."Everything looked different. Everything was different," she said. "I can't imagine having a television camera or microphone shoved in my face and being made to talk rationally. That's punishing me, punishing the victim."
Price eventually found that discussing her rape openly was cathartic. But it was her decision, a choice she came to in her own way and time.
That choice was made for a 29-year-old Florida woman whose name was made public last week after several news organizations broke with the journalistic practice of withholding the identities of rape victims.
Editors in some cases decided the practice perpetuates the archaic notion that rape victims are somehow themselves guilty.
Naming names, some news executives concluded, would help destigmatize a crime that in the majority of cases is neither reported nor prosecuted. It's time for the double standard to be lifted, they argued.
"There's no legal right to remain anonymous any more in a rape case in this state than in any other crime," said publisher Joe Doster of the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal, one of a few newspapers that routinely publish rape victims' names. "There may be victims of many other crimes who would prefer to remain anonymous."
But for victims of rape, societal stigma remains the essential reality. None of the rape victims interviewed for this story believed that victims' names should be reported, unless they approve. Most said being forcibly exposed to public scrutiny would only heighten their pain and a frightening sense of uncontrol.
"In the best of all worlds it would be great if rape victims were treated the same way other victims are," said Price, 51, who was abducted and raped after her car broke down on a stretch of New York highway.
"The reality is," she said. "It's like being raped all over again."
Activists regret the shame implied by withholding the identities of rape victims. They agree that the convention is misguided, a sad reflection of society's ambivalence toward women who have been violated.
That's got to change, activists said. "But the media can't do it," said Dean Kilpatrick of the National Victim Center in New York.
"To say that, in essence, `outing' victims is going to change a lot of very erroneous attitudes and dispel the stigma about rape is asinine," Kilpatrick said. "That is not how attitude change occurs."
His opinion was shared by the majority of those surveyed last week by Gordon S. Black Corp. for USA Today. Sixty-eight percent of those questioned said they did not think a rape victim's humiliation would lessen if their names routinely were made public.
Six out of seven men and women think reporting the name of a rape victim creates a special hardship for women, according to a poll taken Thursday and Friday by the Gallup Organization for Newsweek.
Activists suggest education as the best method of dispelling the persistent myths surrounding rape. But they said involuntary disclosure immediately after a rape might only make victims less likely to press charges or share their experience down the line.
Already nine out of 10 rapes go unreported, according to the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault in Washington, D.C. And of 313 women questioned in the USA Today poll, about half said they would be less likely to report a rape if they thought their name would end up in the news.
Rebecca Villers and her husband moved out of town after a local newspaper published her name without consent in a story about her 1987 rape in a Huntington, W.Va., shopping mall.
"It was like, `What's everybody going to think? Now everybody knows that I'm the victim,"' said Mrs. Villers, who with her husband subsequently moved back to Huntington. "Even now I think some people respond to me differently."
Lee Ezell was raped as a teenager and bore a child she gave up for adoption. It was 20 years before she saw her daughter again and started a healing process that culminated in her book, "The Missing Piece."
"It's difficult to be branded a victim. And that has to change," Ezell said. "But I don't think it will help to victimize the victim again. Laying naked before the public is a choice only the individual should make."
Of 1,000 people questioned in a survey released last week by the National Victim Center, 79 percent said they would support laws barring print and broadcast media from revealing the names and addresses of sexual assault victims.
Such a law already exists in Florida. And a Palm Beach County judge is considering whether the state attorney can prosecute news organizations that name the woman who alleges she was raped by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's nephew, William Kennedy Smith, after a night of partying.
Peggy Magelssen, a Norfolk, Va., rape victim who said she was releasing her name for the first time, fears a change in the policy of protecting identities could make her job as a crisis counselor more difficult.
"Women are going to go back underground," she said. "Most of the times the only way I can even get people to get treatment at the hospital is to promise confidentiality . . . (and) I don't know how I'm going to get people to prosecute now."
The Des Moines Register won a Pulitzer Prize earlier this month for a series of articles in which a rape victim agreed to be named. The decision to dispense with journalistic convention has since prompted much ethical debate and soul-searching among those in the industry.
But among rape victims themselves, many of whom have chosen to speak publicly and work at counseling centers, an uneasiness remains.
"It's unfortunate that there's any stigma attached to victims of rape," said a 39-year-old Miami journalist who was sexually assaulted 11 years ago. "But that's not how people respond when you're raped."
Gladys Vescelus of Casselberry, Fla., who was raped by a neighbor, said a recent letter to the editor of a local paper only underscored that fact:
The writer, she recalled, said, "She shouldn't have been there. My grandma said you act like a lady, you get treated like a lady."
"It's about time that as women, we take our stand. The laws are based upon the men. It's an overall men's world. They don't know what it's like to be raped," she said.
"A lot of people still believe the victim is asking for it," added a Fargo, N.D., woman who speaks publicly about her rape but asked that her name not be published. "The stigma is still there."
Less than a year ago, Annette Fuselier declined to be identified in an article that touched on her experience as a childhood incest victim. She was still sorting through her pain, frightened of being exposed before everyone in her community outside New Orleans.
Now she's standing up, speaking out publicly. She believes it's her responsibility - and that publishing victims' names could help others shed unwarranted shame associated with rape. But at what price?
"Over time it would reduce the stigma, but it would be at the immediate expense of the victim," Fuselier said. "We need a compromise. If she wants her name released, fine. And if she says no, that no has to be honored.
"If it's not honored. Well, that's just raping her all over again."