Identifying Parents Who Rape Their Children p. 14

By: M.L. Stein Positive community response is a key factor in a
newspaper's decision to change its publication policy sp.

AN OVERWHELMING community response in favor of naming parental rapists in stories was a major factor in the Spokane Spokesman-Review changing its policy on the issue.
Chris Peck, managing editor of the newspaper, recently planted the seed for the switch when he used his column to ask for readers' viewpoints on the matter.
A local man had been convicted of raping his four daughters, aged 4 to 8, while their mother videotaped the abuses.
The rapist was not named in the Spokesman-Review story when he was found guilty in a nonjury trial, in keeping with the paper's written ethics policy of not identifying such criminals because doing so would identify their victims. Other rapists routinely are identified in the Spokesman-Review.
After the verdict, Peck noted in his column that the man was scheduled to be sentenced soon and added, "Frank-ly, we need your help to make the decision on whether the name should be published.
"Every day, the press is hung out to dry for being insensitive and callous. Yet every day, taxpayers and the law-abiding rely on us to monitor the judicial process . . . . So we are caught trying to navigate a slippery path.
"Do we publish the name of a four-time rapist because the community expects it or do we not publish the name to add a bit of protection to the victims because the community expects that?"
Peck asked for reader opinions, listing phone numbers to call.
The response favored name disclosure by a 2-1 margin.
"The calls overloaded our lines," Peck said. "We got 500 in a three-day period. We also got a valuable lesson in taking the public's temperature."
The managing editor said women respondents outnumbered men by a 60-40 margin. Dozens of women suggested that the crime of rape flourishes because it is kept more secret than other criminal acts, he noted.
There also were scores of letters on the subject, Peck said.
"We were impressed with the eloquence of the people who responded," he said. "They were intelligent and did not hesitate to jump into deep, complex issues and ideas."
Peck began a post-survey column as follows: "His name goes in the paper this week." The rapist was identified in a Spokesman-Review account of his sentencing.
The man's wife, who was convicted of four counts of failing to report a crime to authorities, also was named in a story.
In his follow-up column, Peck noted that even those callers who urged identification were concerned about further harm being done to the four girls.
"But," he continued, "the majority of the callers said the responsibility for protection of these girls now falls on the shoulders of foster parents, the sentencing guidelines of the courts and the good will of the community.
"From press, the callers wanted only one thing above all: the facts about what is going on in their community."
Peck also disclosed in the column that the move to submit the decision of name disclosure to the public did not please all staffers.
"The water-cooler grumbling inside this newspaper complained that this was wimping out," he reported.
Peck said that while the survey result was an important element in the newspaper's policy shift, it was not the only factor.
Editors, he continued, spent many hours examining all aspects of the issue and sought opinions of reporters. The paper also learned that there are means of protecting child rape victims from harassment, Peck said.
He pointed out that three of the four girls assaulted by their father now use different names than his. One daughter is not yet in school.
"It all boils down to which has the highest value: protecting the child's privacy or holding to our traditional responsibility of informing the community," Peck said.


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