Journalists debate naming rape victims New York Times, NBC and others identify woman in Fla. rape case.

April 18, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

The debate over whether rape victims should be publicly identified has intensified now that the New York Times and NBC News disclosed the name of the woman who has charged that she was raped by William Kennedy Smith.

A growing number of journalists argue that by keeping victims' names private, the media are perpetuating a stigma that rape victims have something to be ashamed of.

But many journalists and legal scholars counter that focusing attention on the accuser can effectively put rape victims rather than assailants under suspicion, and that the decision over going public should remain with the victim.

But all sides condemned the New York Times for its lengthy profile, which quoted an unnamed source saying she had "a little wild streak" in the ninth grade.

In the aftermath of the disclosures, the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Des Moines Register and Reuters news agency also named the woman. But the great majority, including the Los Angeles Times, are keeping her identity private.

The 29-year-old Florida woman has alleged that Smith, the nephew of Sen. Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy, D-Mass., raped her in Palm Beach.

The woman has refused to be identified, and Florida law bans the media from naming rape victims. But on April 7, a London tabloid named the woman. A week later the supermarket tabloid the Globe, based in Boca Raton, Fla., also published the name and photograph under the headline "Kennedy Rape Gal Exposed."

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