Law / Socioculture

I tend to run 50/50 on Naomi Wolf. I end up disagreeing with her more often than not, but I almost always see the merits of the arguments she makes. She’s had a lot to say regarding Julian Assange’s Swedish sex charges, and the variety of motives that might be ascribed to his accusers. So now she’s asking a bigger question, for which she’s happy to volunteer her answer – When rape (or other sex crime) victims become accusers, what’s the logic in journalists protecting their anonymity?

“In the U.S., it’s common journalistic practice to protect the anonymity of alleged victims; and in the U.K. it’s actually against the law to publicly name names. “This is bad law and bad policy,” Wolf writes. “Motivated by good intentions, the outcome harms women.” She argues that anonymity “serves institutions that do not want to prosecute rapists” by allowing “officials to evade responsibility for transparent reporting of assaults.” She also contends that “treating rape differently serves only to maintain its mischaracterization as a ‘different’ kind of crime, loaded with cultural baggage.” What’s more, “women are not children,” she says, and “if one makes a serious criminal accusation, one must be treated as a moral adult.”

“I’ll be honest, there is something appealing about Wolf’s push to erase the stigma of sexual assault and to treat rape victims the same as we treat victims of any other violent crime. She argues that “the practice of not naming rape victims took hold” because of the Victorian notion that rape victims were “damaged goods.” Perhaps by protecting the anonymity of accusers, we are actually validating, and perpetuating, that perspective. As Wolf sees it, doing away with anonymity is the way to effectively change our culture of victim-blaming-and-shaming.
“There’s a world of difference, though, between a rape accuser electing to speak out and a rape accuser being outed by the media. It seems kind of cruel to consider rape victims responsible for the punishing work of unloading all this “cultural baggage.” The real issue is that, by most estimates, rape is massively underreported, precisely because of that stigma. Thrusting accusers into the limelight only further discourages reporting — and that hardly seems an effective way to stamp out the stigma.”


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