Local News

Duke Rape Case Brings Up Longtime Dilemma: Report Victims' ID?

Posted April 19, 2006
Updated January 7, 2007

— Should the identities of people who say they were raped be made known in media reports?

It is an ethical dilemma that has been going on long before an exotic dancer reported to police last month that she was raped by three members of Duke University's men's lacrosse team.

Since two suspects were arrested Tuesday in connection with the rape investigation, their names have been widely reported and their faces have been displayed on the Internet, television and newspapers across the United States.

But with each story about the case, the woman who says she was raped is not identified.

"The circumstances here have evolved such that to be even-handed, the accuser and the accused should be treated as equitably as possible," said media attorney Hugh Stevens.

Stevens, who has nearly 30 years of experience in media law, believes it is time the accuser's name be made public.

"That's just a fundamental fairness to me," he said,

Many news agencies, including WRAL, do not report accusers' names out of the risk of adding to someone's trauma or deterring someone from reporting an assault.

"The right thing to do is not to release a name (is) really based on a community expectation that we don't release it," said WRAL news director Rick Gall. "We believe the community would be appalled if we released it."

Right now, just 17 percent of rape victims report a crime. A 1992 study by the National Victim Center found that 92 percent of rape victims would be less likely to report the crime if they knew the media would report their names.

Beyond that, advocates for not releasing the name say doing so could lead to safety issues and could also bring blame.

"They are opened up to a blitz of media and investigation that looks into their past and history," said Adam Hartzell, executive director for

Interact of Wake County, a private, non-profit agency that provides support and awareness to victims of sexual assault. "And in reality, this is a crime that none of that is relevant."

But Stevens argues that details about the woman in the Duke lacrosse rape case are already known and that the only detail missing is her identity.

"It's time to treat everybody alike," he said.

A rape victim's name is written in most police reports, which are public record. According to North Carolina's Public Records Law, however, police investigators can withhold a name if there is concern for the victim's safety.

For years, the Winston-Salem Journal published the names of rape victims, but it stopped the practice in the late 1990s.

And there are cases where major news outlets broke with tradition. In 1991, for example, NBC News and The New York Times named the woman who accused William Kennedy Smith of rape. A year later, many media organizations also published the name of Mike Tyson's accuser.
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