I could not say what I would do in this situation, but I do know that if the victim isn’t comfortable releasing that information, their wishes should be respected.
Kendall Anderson is terrified to let a reporter contact the man she says raped her in September 2013.
Anderson, a 21-year-old student at Mills College in Oakland, California, has publicly shared details of the assault, which took place on a first date in her dorm room. She wants to raise awareness about the treatment of rape victims.
But ever since Rolling Stone published a now-retracted article about an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house, Anderson has found that journalists interested in writing about her story have started asking for more corroborating evidence, including medical records and the perpetrator’s identity. One reporter recently asked for permission to contact her rapist.
Anderson is not opposed to helping journalists corroborate her experience by providing them with her attacker’s name, the police incident report and other evidence, but she refuses to give permission to contact him.
“For me, my primary concern is I feel it is a major safety issue,” says Anderson, who never spoke to her attacker again.
“By having a journalist contact him, it’s putting me back on his radar. If something happened as a result, if he retaliated after being contacted, I feel I wouldn’t be protected.”
Anderson and other survivors are concerned that the Rolling Stone scandal has changed the terms of reporting on sexual assault so that contacting a perpetrator is a requirement. They fear that such a condition will discourage many survivors from sharing their stories at exactly the time when the public is most interested in hearing them. They also worry that it forces survivors to weigh weigh the benefit of speaking out against the risk of retaliation or harm.
Like Anderson, more than 70% of victims know their rapists in some capacity, according to FBI data. While it’s not clear if or how many survivors have been harmed after speaking out, the threat of retribution can feel immediate and visceral.
On Sunday, a trio of journalists at the Columbia School of Journalism released an exhaustive report on Rolling Stone‘s errors. Chief among them was failing to corroborate the victim’s claims, including by confirming the assailant’s identity and contacting him for comment.
“Journalistic practice — and basic fairness — require that if a reporter intends to publish derogatory information about anyone, he or she should seek that person’s side of the story,” the authors wrote.
if you are going to say something negative about somebody, get their side: Columbia University’s Rolling Stone report http://t.co/XAgUCB5FiL
— Poynter (@Poynter) April 6, 2015
Indeed, had Rolling Stone more aggressively attempted to locate the perpetrator — whose identity and existence still cannot be confirmed — the magazine might have abandoned telling that particular victim’s story.
“I’m not willing to be part of a story if a journalist, in order to do due diligence, feels they need to contact the perpetrator,” Anderson says. “I understand that journalists have an obligation to follow up on all sides of the story, but this is not a traditional kind of story. This is a violent attacker they’re speaking to … I have no idea if he’s even aware I’m doing this.”
Meghan Warner, a survivor and activist at the University of California, Berkeley, is also concerned about the effect of routinely asking for a perpetrator’s name and permission to contact that person.
“I do think the emphasis on interviewing the accused will further silence survivors,” she said in an email. “We’re finally entering a time where our narratives are being shared and more respected, but contacting perpetrators is dangerous for survivors and only serves to silence survivors everywhere who prioritize their health and safety.”
Read more: mashable.com