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Identifying the victims of sexual assualt and their parents?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Evil ... Thy name is Orville Redenbacher!!, Sep 11, 2007.

  1. This morning's Charleston Gazette has a story of black woman who was beaten, tortured and sexually assaulted for a week by six people before being rescued.
    The paper has a lead photo of the victim, in her hospital bed, and her mother.
    The reporter interviews the 20 year-old's parents and ID's them both. The paper also ID's the victim - but doesn't interview her.
    To me, this is bullshit. The victim, who also has some mental issues, should NOT in any way shape or form be ID. I really believe the AP is correct in not Identifying victims to sexual assault. I don't think the Gazette's story should be any exception.
    The story is enhanced (slightly) by the interview with the victim's parents, by why ID them? Why not refer to them as "the victim of the parents?"

    I think this is really bad form on the part of the Charleston Gazette?

    What are some other thoughts on this?

    Here is the Gazette's story (I'm removing the name of the reporter)

    6 arrested, charged in torture

    Authorities believe racism played role in woman’s ordeal

    Staff writer
    CHARLESTON - Carmen Williams doesn’t understand why her 20-year-old daughter was tortured, raped and tied up in a shed.
    Police tell her that what happened was probably a hate crime, that it happened because Megan Williams is black.
    “Every time they stabbed her, they called her ‘nigger,’ ” her mother said.
    But whatever the reason, Carmen Williams wants people to know what happened to her daughter. She agreed to talk to a reporter from her daughter’s room at Charleston Area Medical Center General Hospital.
    She said a man and a woman — who Megan Williams thought were her friends — took her to the house of Frankie Lee Brewster in Pecks Mill, Logan County.
    Megan Williams was held in the house for about a week, police said.
    According to criminal complaints filed against six people in this case, she was beaten, stabbed, choked, sexually assaulted and threatened with death.
    The details are even more horrible. According to the complaints, she was forced to eat dog and rat feces and to lick up blood. She was made to lick parts of Brewster’s body, under the threat of death. Her hair was pulled out. She was made to drink from the toilet. She was sexually assaulted while hot water was poured on her body, and while a man held a knife to her.
    A woman allegedly cut Megan Williams’ ankle and said, “That’s what we do to niggers around here.”
    Six people had been charged Monday evening, including Brewster, the 49-year-old woman who owns the home where the alleged assault happened. She is charged with sexual assault, kidnapping, malicious wounding and giving false statements to an officer.
    Bobby R. Brewster, Frankie Brewster’s 24-year-old son, is charged with kidnapping, sexual assault, malicious wounding and assault during the commission of a felony.
    Danny J. Combs, 20, is charged with sexual assault and malicious wounding. George A. Messer, 27, is charged with assault during the commission of a felony and battery.
    Karen Burton, 46, is charged with malicious wounding, battery and assault during the commission of a felony. Her daughter, Alisha Burton, 23, is charged with assault during the commission of a felony and battery.
    Each was being held Monday at Southwestern Regional Jail on $100,000 bail.
    Carmen Williams said the two people who took her daughter to the Pecks Mill house did it so she could be tortured. Police are looking for those people, Logan County Chief Deputy V.K. Dingess said Monday evening.
    “Apparently once they got her there they planned to do this,” Dingess said.
    Carmen Williams said she has barely left her daughter’s side since police found her Saturday.
    “She wakes up in the middle of the night screaming, ‘Mommy,’” she said. “What’s really bad is that we don’t know everything they did to her. She is crying all the time.”
    She said her daughter has been a little better since she learned that the people who hurt her have been arrested.
    The FBI has been called in to investigate the incident as a hate crime, Dingess said. All six of the people charged so far are white.
    Megan Williams was found Saturday at Brewster’s house. Police, acting on a tip, went to the residence to check on a female who was reportedly being held against her will, according to the criminal complaint filed in Logan County Magistrate Court.
    “Frankie was sitting on her front porch with her door open. We asked Frankie who else was at the residence and she stated no one else was here, that she was alone,” according to the complaint. “As she was talking, she got up and stepped toward her door when a female inside the residence limped toward the door with her arms out, saying, ‘help me.’ ”
    The woman, Megan Williams, had four stab wounds in her left leg. Her eyes are bruised.
    Brewster told police that she didn’t know how that had happened to Williams. She told police she had been away with friends, and that Williams came to her house on Saturday already in that condition.
    Megan Williams was taken first to Logan Regional Hospital and then to CAMC General, where she underwent surgery for her leg wounds, Dingess said.
    “We have all been praying and asking the lord to take us through this,” Carmen Williams said. “It’s hard to deal with it. We are very angry. ... She will be scarred for a long time.”
    Megan Williams has some “mental issues,” including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, her mother said.
    “She was always pretty happy,” she said of her daughter. “She wants to be on her own. She is a good person.”
    Carmen Williams said it will take a long time for her daughter to recover.
    “People don’t realize that people will call themselves your friends but they are not really your friends,” said Matthew Williams, the woman’s father. “People have to be aware that things like that will happen.”

    - 30 -
  2. friend of the friendless

    friend of the friendless Active Member

    Mr Redenbacher,

    I know in Canada it's a no-go. Have done a couple of features with these sort of issues and some court stories in various journo-lives. If a victim was willing to come forward after trial and waive confidentiality (supposing that vic's lawyer and the court were advised), it would be onside. In this case, however, even if there were no questions about the victim's competence, state-of-mind issues would suggest that she wouldn't be able to form consent without duress. Sort of constitutes one assault (the media's) after another. Mother, of course, could neither be identified nor waive confidentiality on the daughter's behalf.

    YHS, etc
  3. godshammgod

    godshammgod Member

    I know in this case the victim agreed to be identified, at least according to CNN.com. Personally, I'm not sure I see the value in identifiying this woman. But, legally I think the paper is fine.

    I don't have the references in front of me, but thinking back to my media law classes Florida Star vs B.J.F is a related legal decision. In that case the Star wasn't held liable for identifying a rape victim based on accurate and legally obtained information. Obviously it's a different circumstance, but it leads me to believe that legally the paper is fine as long as the victim waives the right for her name to be withheld.

    I'm sure someone else knows a lot more about this than I do, but that case instantly popped into my head.

    Here's the quote from CNN, "The victim, 20-year-old Megan Williams, is black; those charged are white. CNN's usual policy is to not report names of sexual assault victims. In this case, the victim agreed to be identified."
  4. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    A lot of papers wouldn't report the name of a rape victim just out of policy, not because they aren't allowed to.
  5. sportschick

    sportschick Active Member

    It's completely legal to identify a victim who's over 18 (not sure about the laws concerning minors). Most papers have policies to not identify them, some even go so far as to not refer to a case as incest.
  6. PinSuperfly

    PinSuperfly New Member

    Do we really need to see the N-word spelled out?

    Makes West Virginia sound like a terrific vacation spot. What is wrong with these people?
  7. friend of the friendless

    friend of the friendless Active Member

    Sirs, Madames,

    In the wake of an assault like this the reasonable question is whether she can form consent without duress.

    As the details in the case suggest, she would not be capable of form informed consent at any point. She's in a freakin' hospital bed.

    No name. Period. Not that complicated. It doesn't remotely serve the common interest.

    YHS, etc
  8. deskslave

    deskslave Active Member

    AFAIK, there's no legal issue with identifying victims either above or below 18. There's an issue in many places with the police PROVIDING that information, but, legally, aren't we protected by the First Amendment? Same principle that says we could, if we wanted, put Fuck in a 125-point banner headline, legally speaking anyway.
  9. Some thoughts:

    1. The newspaper should have spelled out why it identified her.

    2. If a victim wants to be identified, identify her, even if it's a sexual assault. I agree with the family in this case. It humanizes her. Shows potential jurors and the community she has nothing to hide - didn't somehow invite the behavior. Makes the suspects looks like the monsters they are.
  10. mike311gd

    mike311gd Active Member

    I have no problem with "nigger" being spelled out. In my opinion, it's just a word -- albeit offensive, much like many others. I'd imagine that'd be a paper's policy, much like naming a victim. The word itself can be very disparaging, but I think it gives a little something to the story and sheds some light on what kind of people these were -- and might prove a hate crime was the intent. And I know that you can get the same message across with a N-----, but I think that looks ridiculous.
  11. PCLoadLetter

    PCLoadLetter Well-Known Member

    I'm not identifying a 20-year old rape victim with "mental issues" days after the assault. Strange decision, I think.

    And I'm solidly with Mike311; I think "N-----" looks silly, and "n-word" sounds like something you'd talk to a six year old about. If you're not going to spell out the word, go with something like "racial epithet."
  12. fishwrapper

    fishwrapper Active Member

    I can see your arguments.
    But, I have problems with the word in copy.
    I have problems skirting around the word.
    When a story describes "a racial or ethnic epithet directed toward African Americans and blacks," everyone knows the word. Why use it? Shock value? Accuracy? I don't think either point is valid.
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