In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a man is acquitted of abduction and rape at knifepoint because the woman wore a lace-trimmed denim mini-skirt. After the trial, the jury foreman said, "We all feel she asked for it for the way she was dressed."
In Sanford, Fla., a judge frees a man who pleaded guilty to rape and plea bargained to a 4 1/2-year prison sentence. The judge said, "I just have a hard time laying all the blame on him. I don't see how he could take up with her. She was such a pitiful woman."As these rape cases illustrate, all too often the rape victim finds herself on trial and blamed for the attack.
It is horrifying that rape victims carry a stigma imposed by society. To reveal a rape victim's name without her permission is a second victimization. She is then violated by the media and in the alleged Palm Beach rape, some of the press have engaged in a kind of media gang rape.
Apparently a new precedent in journalistic ethics has been set by British and Florida tabloids who exposed the alleged rape victim. The media gurus at NBC Nightly News and the New York Times chose to play follow-the-leader and decided to let the foxes guard the chicken coop.
It is a frightening turn of events to see supermarket tabloids set standards for respected "mainstream" media.
Short of murder, rape is the ultimate violation of a woman's body. The single advantage of rape over murder is survival. But for every rape survivor, the chance to go on with the rest of her life has been damaged by the Palm Beach rape case. If she's lucky enough to survive a rape, she may not survive the character assault of media scrutiny.
For NBC and the New York Times to suggest that attitudes have changed enough to report the identities of rape victims is ludicrous.
The decision to disclose the rape victim's name should be the victim's alone to make. The choice should not be made unilaterally by editors whose motives, given the sensational coverage of the case, are suspect. Their purported goal of ending sexism in reporting is commendable, but it should not be done at the expense of rape victims.
Statistics show that rape is a vastly under-reported crime. Although 100,000 rapes were reported last year, as many as 1.9 million rapes went unreported, according to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Feminists have worked for years to encourage women to report rape to the police and to secure the conviction of rapists. Yet the treatment of the Palm Beach case by some of the media could turn back the clock and have a chilling effect on future rape victims. Many victims may decide not to report the rape and thus leave rapists free to rape again.
It is a far different matter when rape victims give permission to the media to disclose their names and faces. I applaud those brave women who have chosen to cease being victims and to share their story with the public.
Indeed, the National Organization for Women encourages rape survivors to come out and tell their story. Other victims need to know they are not alone and the public needs to know that rape can happen to anyone - your neighbor, your co-worker, or even someone in your family. But a woman's identity should not be exposed against her will by the press.