Derrick Rose's accuser must be named, judge rules. Is that fair?

The move reignites questions about protecting a victim’s right to privacy and a defendant’s presumption of innocence.

Mary Altaffer/AP/File
Derrick Rose speaks during a June news conference for the New York Knicks to announce they acquired him from the Chicago Bulls at Madison Square Garden in New York. Mr. Rose has been sued by an anonymous woman who alleges he and two friends gang-raped her in 2013.

The anonymous plaintiff who is suing NBA player Derrick Rose for $21.5 million, accusing him and two of his friends of gang-raping her in 2013, must publicly identify herself in court if the case is to proceed to trial next month as scheduled, a judge ruled Tuesday.

The move reignites questions about protecting a victim’s right to privacy and a defendant’s presumption of innocence in a society steeped in social media and 24-hour TV news. Should victims of sexual violence be allowed to retain their anonymity in court?

Reporters have historically declined to publish the names of rape victims who have not publicly identified themselves outside the court, citing a self-imposed ethical standard. But some have argued that doing so creates problems.

“When journalists depart from the commitment to telling the whole story, to naming names, to getting at painful truths, we tread on dangerous ground,” Geneva Overholser, a former editor of the Des Moines Register, wrote for the Poynter Institute. Noting a few rare examples, Ms. Overholser argued that suppressing a victim’s name perpetuates stigma.

“The responsible course for responsible media today is this: Treat the woman who charges rape as we would any other adult victim of a crime. Name her, and deal with her respectfully. And leave the trial to the courtroom,” Overholser wrote.

But even if journalists succeed at handling a survivor’s name with sensitivity, the general public is still far too prone to victim-blaming and harassment, says Kristen Houser, the chief public affairs officer for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

“If we want to create a society where survivors don’t care if their name is made public, we have to change the way we as a culture respond to allegations of sexual violence,” Ms. Houser tells The Christian Science Monitor.

Americans today are still dealing with millenniums-long attitudes viewing women as property, which have historically helped shield perpetrators of sexual violence, Houser says. Added privacy for victims is necessary to uproot that legacy, she argues, regardless of whether justice is being pursued in criminal or civil court.

“All victims are entitled to pick one, both, or neither,” adds Houser, who believes that the public has become unfairly skeptical of alleged victims who seek damages in a civil trial, like Mr. Rose's accuser. 

The woman who is suing Rose is reluctant to go public, her attorney told The Washington Post, because she believes her anonymity is crucial to her safety and the well-being of her conservative religious parents, who are unaware of her alleged assault.

Jennifer Long serves as chief executive officer of AEquitas, a Washington-based firm that assists prosecutors with cases involving allegations of sex crimes, gender-based violence, and human trafficking. Ms. Long, who did not comment specifically on the Rose case, says she tends to favor robust privacy protections to shield victims from the public eye, as long as defendants retain their Sixth Amendment right to confront their accusers.

“I can’t think of a compelling public interest to have a victim’s identity known, but that doesn’t mean that one couldn’t arise, given the right circumstances and set of facts,” Long tells the Monitor. "It's so fact-specific."

What seems compelling to Mary DeFusco, the director of training and recruitment for the Defender Association of Philadelphia, is the right of the defendant in a criminal case not to be forced to stand alone in a spotlight, she tells The Christian Science Monitor.

“Newspapers are censoring themselves for the protection of the victim, and that’s fine. But I think they should do the same for the protection of the accused because, under the law, he’s presumed innocent,” Ms. DeFusco says.

“I always think that if anyone is accusing anyone of anything in a court of law, they have to come out of the shadows,” DeFusco adds. “That doesn’t mean that they should be tarred in the media.”

Material from The Associated Press was included in this report.

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