First, I would like to do a little "I told you so". Shortly following the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the media reports that followed, I wrote a post entitled, What if He Is Innocent? Despite the current disclosures regarding the credibility of the accuser and the apparent likelihood that the charges may be dropped, none of us know at this juncture whether or not he is guilty of rape. My concerns were with the impact and consequences of the prosecution statements, the "perp walk", the leaks and media coverage upon a possibly and presumed innocent man. But now I would like to address the voluntary policy which protects the identity of the accuser in a rape case. Although I agree with the policy, I find it difficult to reconcile that the identity of the accuser is protected but not that of the accused! Certainly the stigma of being accused of rape is equal to or even greater than the stigma of being a rape victim.
The policy protecting the identity of the rape victim preserves the privacy of the victim from disclosure of this horrendous personal violation. Justice White described rape as "the ultimate violation -- short of homicide". Efforts to legislate the policy regarding non-disclosure have failed largely due to First Amendment considerations. Although I favor the policy and expect that all rape victims would support it (most being women), I suspect that the origination of and motivation for the policy is not premised on respect for the rape victim, but possibly just the opposite. Many crime victims, even of minor ones, would prefer not to have their identity revealed and their privacy preserved. Admittedly in no way comparable, but the persons who have their house broken into would prefer not to have their identity known or the items stolen listed. I suspect families of murder victims feel likewise about their personal privacy.
In reality, although the policy serves to protect privacy, to some extent it perpetuates the view that rape is a disgrace and that the victim is stigmatized by it. Certainly that view thrives in other parts of the world. So although most of the media adheres to this policy -- a good one -- it does so possibly for the wrong reason. But if privacy and stigma are proper considerations, how can they apply to the rape victim and not the alleged rapist? The consequences of being identified as a rape victim cannot possibly be worse than being identified as a rapist. The difference in treatment can be explained on the basis that one is a victim and the other is a criminal, the former deserving of protection, the latter not. But that is a determination to be made by the judicial system after trial not by the media before it.
I end by recommending that the accused be accorded the same privacy as the accuser -- that the identity of neither be disclosed. I recognize if that were the policy why would it not apply to accused robbers, embezzlers, arsonists, terrorists, murderers, etc.? The accusations affect their privacy and stigmatize their reputations as well. But if we are going to single out rape victims for identity protection it only seems fair to accord that same to protection to the accused. Of course, with the advent of the internet, policies of the mainstream media protecting one or both may be moot. Concern for the destruction of reputations and respect for privacy appear to be quaint relics not worthy of current consideration. Getting it first seems to be more important than getting it right.