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Covering Sensitive Topics

by on February 23, 2013

Currently, the headline “UMass student arrested after alleged rape in on-campus residence hall,” is currently being placed front and center of the Daily Collegian.com website. The vicitim is not identified throughout the entire article- not even an identification of whether or not she is a UMass student. The only information on her is that she is over the age of 14.

The alleged rapist on the other hand, is identified in great detail: “Weilang Wang, an 18-year-old, computer science major… a China national.” He is being held in the Hampshire County Jail for $7,500 bail. He has not yet faced a trial- if it is found that he is innocent, is it okay that his name is now attached to this rape case?

Also, how much value is placed on the word “alleged?” Just because you put it in your article as “the alleged victim who was allegedly raped” does that set you off the hook if the offender turns out to be not guilty? What about the word “accused”? 

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6 Comments
  1. I agree that more than enough information was given about the alleged rapist, but because those police records are public there is nothing stopping anyone from putting them in the newspaper, or in any form of news media. The word “alleged” bothers me, and I think it gets thrown around too much in reporting so that reporters don’t feel responsible if the attacker is found not guilty, and because the word “accused” sounds like that attacker is definitely the one who committed the crime. However, if a rape occurred, they should not say the “alleged rape.” If the rape happened there’s nothing alleged about it.

  2. I think that this story and many more like it are written correctly, because like Katherine said, anyone has access public records which include names, bail amount, where the person was from, etc. If the victim is found innocent, then he will have this case tied to his name. However, this doesn’t mean that the rape victim (alleged) should have her name in the case. According to the SJP code of ethics, journalists are supposed to minimize harm, which is why we as journalists do not expose the names of victims. The names of the accused are exposed, because this is public information.

  3. Connor McCarthy permalink

    Just because it’s public record, does it mean that the journalist has an obligation to release the name of the suspect also? Public records give people the right to access information if they are curious enough to do so, but I don’t think it automatically requires this information to be spread through the media. Like Felicia mentioned, if he is found innocent, is it okay that his name is still attached to that crime? Don’t journalists have an obligation to “minimize harm” for all parties involved, even if it is an unsympathetic rape suspect? They could still report certain details of the suspect without divulging his name. Certainly the public doesn’t want to read an article devoid of any details that reads “an alleged suspect is accused of rape against an alleged victim” but I think journalists are given a free pass from minimizing harm when it involves an unsympathetic suspect.

  4. Liz Sinclair permalink

    I understand that the information about the “alleged rapist” is open to the public but I agree with Connor in that, just because this information is open to the public does not give journalists the inevitable right to spread names freely throughout the media. I agree that as journalists our job is to minimize harm and that is why the victim’s name will never be published. I do however, think that we must consider this “alleged rapist.” I do not think his name should have been published. Other information regarding his character would have been enough. BUT It is a fine line. If this man is found innocent, his name will forever be associated with “alleged rapist” due to this article. If the name was not published and the alleged rapist is then found guilty, the journalist may then feel responsible and regret not incorporating more information in order to increase awareness and minimize harm.

  5. I think when it comes to these types of stories, such as rapes, where it is such a big deal to even be accused of such a thing, that the journalist has to be objective when naming people. We do not get to see the police report, but there are many other details that the journalist can see that we do not. I think it is probably easier to tell when reading an entire police report how likely it is that someone is innocent or guilty of such a crime. This must be taken into account when letting the identities of the parties involved out. If it looked as though it was a false accusal, then the man may be looked at as the victim and the story could be framed that way or at least giving reason to keep his name out of the story. With that said, only 2-8% of rapes are false and many more go unreported,(http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2013/01/08/the_enliven_project_s_false_rape_accusations_infographic_great_intentions.html) so it is rare that the journalist really has to worry about the reputation and character of the accused. If someone said you raped them, you probably weren’t any angel to begin with. Rapists also go unconvicted often so it may be justice to some extent to have some stigma on them, even if they do not end up going to jail. That is not to say any writer should be able to play judge and jury, but just to shed some light on why victims are usually kept anonymous while the accused are put under scrutiny from the media.

  6. Kristina Kulyabina permalink

    I agree that the “word” alleged is misused in journalism and in a way relieves reporters if the attacker was found not guilty. I can only imagine how challenging it is to report on a case in which there is no definite guilty person without making the person sound guilty. If it is pretty clear with evidence that the attacker committed the rape, how does a journalist go around making it sound like maybe, just maybe, he didn’t? I don’t think the suspects name should be mentioned in the article however, until he is found guilty. If he is found innocent, then his identity and reputation will be forever ruined among society.

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