A majority of Americans oppose publication of a rape victim's name and believe the truth about the alleged assault of a woman at the Kennedy family compound has been covered up, a Newsweek poll released Saturday shows.
The poll was taken two days after NBC News, the New York Times and other news organizations identified the 29-year-old Jupiter, Fla., woman who says she was raped March 30 by William Kennedy Smith, the nephew of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. Smith, 31, has denied the allegations.The release of the woman's name and the publication of a detailed profile of the victim by The New York Times have sparked a heated debate within the news industry over identification of rape victims.
But for 77 percent of those contacted by Newsweek, there is no question that a rape victim's identity should be protected.
"The vast majority of Americans think the news media should treat rape differently from other crimes by withholding the names of rape victims," Newsweek said in a news release.
Likewise, 86 percent said a woman would be less likely to report a rape if she thought her name would become public, and that reporting the name creates a "special hardship" for the woman.
The Newsweek poll was conducted by the Gallup Organization, which surveyed 761 adults April 18-19, two days after the name of the woman was broadcast by NBC News and her picture and name were published by the Globe tabloid.
Asked specifically about the alleged rape at the Kennedy estate in Palm Beach, Fla., 64 percent told Newsweek they believe "there is a coverup because the Kennedys are involved."
Seventy-nine percent also said the case had received more publicity because of the Kennedy angle.
On Friday, 400 New York Times staffers angrily confronted top Times editors for publishing the Florida woman's name along with the profile, which included her traffic record.
The profile quoted acquaintances describing the woman as having "a little wild streak," and other personal details.
"They didn't get it," one angry staffer told the New York Post afterward. "They don't understand they set it up to look like the slut asked for it."
In the view of 64 percent of the Newsweek respondents, it doesn't matter if a woman behaves in a provocative manner, she still should not be blamed for the sexual attack.
However, 30 percent of the men and 23 percent of the women said that in that case a woman shared some of the blame.
A Palm Beach County judge deciding if the state attorney can bring charges against media that identified the woman in the Kennedy case asked any interested parties Friday to file legal briefs on the issue.
Florida has a statute that prohibits publication of a rape victim's name.
Release of the Florida woman's name by The New York Times and NBC News has rekindled the fears of a New York woman who was the victim of a 1989 brutal assault in Central Park that she too may be identified. She is now known only as the Central Park jogger.
"She does not want her name used. It's the only secret she has left, " a friend was quoted as saying in the New York Post's Saturday editions.