It’s incredibly unfortunate but also true that stories surrounding controversial sexual assault cases have been all too common lately. The UVA case in particular has attracted intense scrutiny since rape accusations broke in 2014 against numerous fraternity brothers. “Jackie,” an alleged victim, and her account of an alleged sexual assault have been plaguing the media for years now, and what was once a disturbing look into a violent incident on a college campus is now the cause for questioning the act of whether it is moral or immoral to share a victim’s true name.
“Jackie” came forward to Rolling Stone in a 2014 article, recounting her story of being sexually assaulted at one of the fraternities on the University of Virginia campus. As the story unfolded, numerous inconsistencies were found in Jackie’s claims, all of which have led to a court case between Nicole Eramo, an administrator who claims that she got an unfair depiction in the article, and Rolling Stone‘s Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the writer of the piece.
Jackie’s true, legal name has yet to be released. That decision has come as a surprise, especially since many of Jackie’s claims have proven to be false and her story has been somewhat discredited. Because of this, people have wondered and questioned why Jackie still has the benefit of being anonymous. The main reason why she is anonymous is because of the journalistic standard of conduct which says that victims of sexual assaults are not to be named (unless the permission of the victim to use their name is given). Still, Jackie wasn’t particularly honest with the publication that she went into this bond of anonymity with. In the opinions of some, to call Jackie a “victim” at all is dishonest. Wouldn’t that mean that the standard of conduct is thrown out the window and Jackie’s anonymity would go along with it? The questions sparked by this situation have led to discussions of the benefits and detriments of anonymity for assault victims. In terms of having victims (and even perpetrators, alleged or not) being named, there are valid reasons for having anonymity and name revelations.
In the recent Brock Turner case, Turner received death threats over the outcome of the decision. We all know that Brock Turner is the worst, but are threats that pose a danger to him and his family going too far? In defense of releasing his name, Turner specifically was convicted of a crime. It makes sense for his name to have been released because of that. You could make the case that Turner should not have had his name released because of these troubling threats. On the other hand, his name was released because it was deemed important for the public to be warned about his predatory status and because of the legal precedence that does not protect his privacy after committing crimes. With victims though, what is the morality behind releasing their names or letting them be anonymous with their claims?
Victims may be more likely to come forward if they know that they will be protected under a cloud of anonymity. As Geneva Overholser points out in an article on The Daily Beast, “The longstanding nudge (by journalists and others) toward anonymity that women who have been raped have been experiencing has no doubt comforted some, at least for a period.” Overholser offers up the argument against anonymity by saying that it, “is a particular slice of silence that I believe has consistently undermined society’s attempts to deal effectively with rape.”
Overholser is saying that there is some benefit for victims to remain anonymous. However, that benefit may not be best in the long-term for helping other victims of sexual assault to come forward. Other victims (and society) may see the victim’s stance of anonymity as a sign that they do not feel comfortable coming forward with their name because of fear, weakness, or guilt in light of what happened to them. In reality, there is a great amount of strength in coming forward and sharing your story, nameless or otherwise.
Ultimately, it should be completely up to the victim whether or not their identity is shared or not. Anonymity provides them with a safe space to process their trauma and allows them to avoid being subjected to further trauma, whether it be by internet trolls or others who question the legitimacy of their stories. Victims have time and time again been subjected to torment online and in real life because of their accusations. They are protected from that with an anonymous identity attached to their claims. On the other hand, relating their stories with their true identities could propel other victims to come forward after seeing others who are unafraid to do so (which isn’t to say that anonymous victims who come forward are less brave).
There obviously isn’t an exact answer that solves the question of the morality in sharing victim’s names. Even though there are valid arguments on both sides of the anonymity coin, the benefits of being anonymous outweigh the pros of releasing a name. This even goes for “Jackie.” She may have falsified aspects of the case but there is still the possibility that she was the victim of some crime that took place at UVA. Because of this, and because of all of the damaging slander that she would undoubtedly encounter if her name was released, it’s best for “Jackie” to remain anonymous for her own safety. In general, I lean towards advocating for victims to be anonymous in media sources.
With the rise in popularity of social sites like Twitter and Facebook, the culture surrounding victim blaming and bashing has increased. These sites have given people the outlet to be cruel to these victims, which could lead to those victims to take drastic measures in order to get away from the pain that the hate is causing, as was the case with Audrie Pott’s unfortunate suicide in 2013 after coming forward with sexual assault accusations.
Anonymous victims can still come forward with their stories and they can do it without fear of being attacked. They can do so without the worry that they will be aggressively targeted by individuals, which could lead to even more effects on their personal lives. If the victim’s safety is in question after coming forward with an accusation then the best option is to have their story accompanied by anonymity.