01/10/2011 07:04 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Naomi Wolf Is Right That Rape Accusers Should Be Named, but...

In an op-ed published January 5 by the Guardian, Naomi Wolf argues that Julian Assange's alleged Swedish victims -- and all sex crime accusers -- should be publicly identified by their real names.

According to Wolf, anonymity "makes rape prosecutions more difficult" and perpetuates the insidious belief that rape is "a 'different' kind of crime." In reference to "Miss A" and "Miss W" (the pseudonyms by which Assange's accusers are known), Wolf insists that when "one makes a serious criminal accusation, one must be treated as a moral adult."

Wolf is mostly right. But in her zeal to promote the benefits of disclosure, she neglects to mention that women who have been raped still tend to endure a type of hardship which rarely -- if ever -- affects any other crime victims who seek justice.

However, it is indeed regrettable that when it comes to alleged sexual assaults, the status quo among media and law enforcement professionals is still to indiscriminately withhold the accuser's identity, and just as indiscriminately, to name the alleged perpetrator. According to that archaic and one-sided policy, the presumptively innocent individual who stands accused deserves no consideration whatsoever.

Obviously, it's natural to stick up for rape victims. But we should remember that those who have been falsely accused are also victims.

The fairest solution is to conceal the accuser's identity only in certain circumstances. Making such decisions on an individual basis is exactly how the Witness Protection Program operates. Just as standards have been established to determine when a Mafia turncoat needs extraordinary protection, suitable criteria could be developed to ascertain which rape victims need to remain anonymous for some period of time.

Relevant factors might include the degree of vulnerability, and what -- if anything -- a complainant wants from the justice system. Maybe a person who hasn't even accused anyone of rape should be entitled to anonymity if authorities insist on pressing charges anyway.

Although accusers should be named by default, it might be that Assange's alleged victims each qualifies for an exemption. As our primary source of information is one measly article about a translated Swedish police report, none of us is well-positioned to judge how "Miss A" and "Miss W" have conducted themselves, and we don't really know exactly what they told cops.

On the other hand, the women have retained counsel -- apparently to pursue rape and molestation charges -- so maybe their identities should be revealed.

We needn't be privy to what went on between Assange and his lovers to realize how callous it is to assume all accused rapists deserve to be stigmatized, or how unfair it is to believe all accusers deserve anonymity whenever rape has been alleged.

When Wolf recently debated Jaclyn Friedman on Democracy Now!, both feminists (especially Friedman) spoke as if they know what happened between Assange and his accusers. Wolf acquitted herself more admirably, at one point noting that both she and Friedman were actually engaged in only guesswork. The sort of remoteness Wolf acknowledged applies to most of us who pontificate about alleged crimes. That we're so often so steeped in conjecture is why we should endeavor to strike a balance between two legitimate but competing considerations. The accuser and accused are both entitled to some degree of compassion.

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