When revelations surfaced last week of a sexual assault that occurred in the bathroom of a Loudoun high school, we — like others — were appalled to learn not just that such a heinous crime had until then not been publicly reported, but also that it was allegedly perpetrated by the same person charged in a separate assault at a second school.

There was one aspect of the reporting, however, that gave us pause as we began to do our own reporting on the story — the privacy of the victim. By using the names of the parents, the original reporting indirectly identified a teen sexual assault victim. The Times-Mirror has a policy to not identify victims of sexual assault.

The matter was complicated for us when the story was picked up by myriad national and international news outlets, many, if not all of which named the victim’s parents. By now, we have no doubt that if you’re reading this, chances are good you’ve already read the parents’ name or even seen a picture of the victim’s father.

There is a long history of news outlets abandoning their effort to maintain the privacy of a news subject once another organization freely reports that person’s identity. The rationale is, “if the information is already public, there’s no sense holding back anymore.”

Reasonable people can disagree as to whether a news organization such as ours can have an appreciable effect in maintaining any amount of privacy for a victim after so many organizations have reported the family’s name.

It is a question we labored over for days, and even consulted numerous experts on journalism ethics, as well as an advocate for sexual assault victims in an effort to seek out as many perspectives as possible.

In the end it came down to this: While Loudoun has seemingly been under the unrelenting gaze of the national media recently, those organizations don’t have the same ties to this community as we do. These pages are tossed in the driveways of the victim’s peers, and that’s not something we take for granted.

If the decision to not name the parents in our reporting can preserve even a modicum of privacy for a person who has endured such a reprehensible crime at such a young age, then that’s a choice we can live with.

(1) comment

jke

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