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Consequences of Exposing Rape Victim’s ID

by on March 4, 2013

A recent article by Sydney Smith from iMedia Ethics addresses a gang rape incident in Thailand and the way the Thai media exposed the identity of the victim, a  Scottish woman on vacation with her boyfriend.  The Daily News, a Thai-language newspaper based in Bangkok with a circulation of nearly 1 million, named and and displayed a photograph of the victim based on her ID but later took down the photo due to online criticism. When the Daily News published this piece, it seems like the organization pursued the deontological approach because it did not take the consequences of revealing the victim into consideration.  In a statement to the Asian Correspondent, alliance spokesperson Kulachada Chaipipat said “It is important for the media not to further traumatize the survivor, that the role of the media is to report and expose the issue, but to protect the dignity of the survivors.”

Perhaps to the Daily News, in terms of deontology, it’s value is to strictly report and expose the entirety of an event, disregarding the potential harm in doing so.  Just because this media outlet had access to the victim’s information, does it mean that it was obligated to publish it? iMedia Ethics wrote to the Daily News and asked it several questions including how it got the victim’s ID and what kind of guidelines it follows in reporting on sex crimes. If the victim or the victim’s immediate family gave permission for publishing the photo, then I think it is appropriate to display her identity because it grounds the reality of the event. The Daily News ended up taking the photo down anyways, but why do you think they didn’t consider the consequences of harsh criticism (leading to the removal of the photo) before publishing it? 

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4 Comments
  1. This is an interesting case because although the publication that exposed the rape victim’s identity must have foreseen some level of backlash, they clearly received more backlash than expected, which caused them to retract the information. In the United States it is pretty well-established that rape victims are not identified in news stories, but the ethical guideline may not be as ingrained in all countries. I think it is good that the newspaper was responsive to public criticism, but at the same time, they showed an inability to stand their ground and explain the ethical principles of their original decision. Although I personally believe that the identity of rape victims should not be publicized, I would have understood why a newspaper might make the opposite argument.

    Another ethical dilemma within this story is the fact that although this rape took place in Thailand, it was in fact a foreigner who was the rape victim. Even if there is a certain view in Thailand toward identifying rape victims, it is also important to consider the view generally held in Scotland. It would be people in Scotland who would be seeing the name of the person they know, so it becomes imperative that cultural relativism is taken into account by Thai reporters.

  2. I don’t think it was appropriate to publish the name of the rape victim, especially because this is an online newspaper. When something is published online, the content can go viral very fast, and when content puts a victim in danger by revealing sensitive information about the victim, that person is put in danger. Especially since the victim was a foreigner and not from Thailand, that person may not want information about their rape exposed to family and friends from her home.
    This incident got a lot of immediate backlash from viewers, and the site quickly took down the photo. But by the time the photo was taken down, the victim’s name and photo had already been identified. As a journalist, I try to approach every ethical dilemma, like this, with a deontological approach. But I also believe that online ethics are different, and publishers must think about the consequences of what they put on the internet, since online content reaches a huge audience and very quickly. Although this is an important issue that should be reported on, I don’t think identifying the victim in this situation adds anything to the story, nor is it in the public’s general interest to know who the victim is.

  3. I found this case very interesting as well considering it seems in American Journalism it would be unheard of, and severely scrutinized, for a newspaper to publish the identity, and especially a photograph, of a rape victim. From the article you reference, I started to think about the fact that this probably is not such a set in stone rule for journalism in every culture. For example, the article quotes the Asian Correspondent commenting on this decision made by the Daily News, saying, “‘…unfortunately, there is a strong tendency among Thailand’s media to take the information provided by the authorities and reproduce it without question or any real context.'” To me, this shows a disconnect between the ethical codes of the two publications and alludes that the Daily News has published information like this in the past. What I found even more appalling was the example of the South African Daily Sun running a photograph on their front page of a minor aged girl being gang raped. Maybe, when approaching these types of situations the paper takes a deontological approach, justifying their publication of these victims by saying it is an integral part of the story. However, I do not think this is okay or an acceptable justification morally or professionally. Rape is a serious crime, which one might consider makes every aspect of it newsworthy, but one must consider the inconceivable trauma and emotional damage victims of rape have to endure. With the personal nature of the crime, and lack of control the victims have already dealt with, the last thing they need is their rape being published on the front page for the world to see. When approaching the issue of weather or not to publish a rape victim’s identity, I personally feel it is only acceptable to use the teleological approach. Will a great service be done to the public by knowing the identity of the victim? No. But will a great harm come to one person? Yes.

  4. Felicia Cohen permalink

    This reminds me of a case, I believe last semester, where UMass did the opposite: a UMass student died and upon the family’s request, and possibly some ulterior motices, did not even inform students about the death.

    This incident, which shed a negative light on the school, due to its party-school reputation, did not make the university look good, which is another possible reason for witholding the information from the community. Instead of sending out the standard “we mourn the loss of ___” email as per usual, they waited until weeks later.

    This story is essentially the opposite- instead of taking your own organization’s reputation into account before deciding to or not to publish, they were considering the reputation of the victim.

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