Last night Moe Tkacik, a blogger for the Washington City Paper, put up a post about the Assange rape allegations that mentioned the names of the women who claim he sexually assaulted them. When the #mooreandme folks got wind of it, they hammered her, and she replied with this (edited slightly for clarity):
I did not get the memo about how we were supposed to be all State Department “see no evil” abt accusers’ names at this point. From my perspective, names were just the obvious way of keeping their stories straight. They’ve been all over internet, tweeting etc about this.
Today the Executive Editor of the website Jezebel, called out for doing the same thing in a post a while back, replied with this:
Her name has been public for 4 mos. Let’s not pretend otherwise.
So okay. Here’s the deal. Three things:
First, and most obviously, a “public” fact can always be made more public. There are people in the world who haven’t read those women’s names, and none of us who write for public dissemination can know whether our site will be the place where one of them learns it. The risk of harm coming to these women from my publishing their names is clearly really small — really really really small — but there’s no way for me to know that it’s zero. It can’t be zero.
Second, potential risk to the alleged rape survivor you’ve named isn’t the only reason not to name her. What’s happened to Assange’s accusers in the wake of the publication of their names is horrifying, and it’s certainly given women who have been raped — or who may be raped in the future — pause about coming forward. It seems obvious to me what a journalist or blogger who names those names is saying to those other women:
“I may name your names too.”
It’s not just A and W who writers and editors need to be thinking about here.
And there’s another really crucial issue as well. New York Times columnist Nick Kristof has named the names of some women and girls who have been raped in the Congo in his stories, and earlier this year he responded to critics of that decision in a blogpost. His defense began this way:
“The only effective way to get people to care about a problem is to tell a story about an individual. … If we leave out names and faces, then there’s no outrage, and the rapes go on and on.”
You see what he did there? He led with the affirmative case for naming names in the specific story in which he’d chosen to do it. It was only after making that case — only after establishing that there was a compelling reason to name a particlar name in a particular story — that he turned to the arguments against, enumerating them in turn.
“I agonized over these tradeoffs,” he wrote, and eventually arrived at a policy. He would only name such names with the consent of the women involved. He would strive to make that consent truly informed and uncoerced. He would leave out any identifying details that might allow these women to be tracked down. And so on.
Some disagree — and vehemently — with Kristof’s decision. But he’s clearly framed the question the right way. If you’re going to even consider naming a name, you’d better have a damn good reason.
And no, “names were just the obvious way of keeping their stories straight” ain’t it.
Update | A concise summary of the case against, from @silentkpants on Twitter: “Naming complainants doesn’t destigmatize rape, it stigmatizes individuals for having made complaints of rape.”