Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette will not name Roethlisberger's civil suit accuser . . . why not?

We reported earlier today that football star Ben Roethlisberger has been accused of sexual assault in a civil action. His accuser did not bother to lodge a criminal complaint against him.

Ben Roethlisberger's hometown newspaper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is not naming Mr. Roethlisberger's accuser because, it declares through writer Jonathan D. Silver, "The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette does not name alleged victims of sexual assault." They've even redacted her name from a document filed of public record (the complaint) so that you won't find out something that even the court doesn't care if you know. (Luckily, other publications aren't so constipated or left-leaning politically correct -- they've printed her name without the self-righteous, gender feminist drama of pretending to protect womankind.)

We have frequently discussed the unjust double standard in asymmetrical anonymity: the mere allegation of rape by any female, without any other evidence and no matter how far-fetched, invites a man's name to be splashed all over the newspaper, TV, radio and Internet for the world to titillate at the details of his humiliation. Men and boys falsely accused of this vile crime have been beaten and killed and have killed themselves; they've been fired from their jobs and lost their businesses; they've lost their wives, their girlfriends and their long-time friends. Rarely do they ever come out of it whole, and for many, the ghost of a false rape claim trails them for the rest of their lives. In contrast, the accuser retains lifelong anonymity, either by law (UK) or, among news outlets, as a courtesy and bow to political forces that insist on it (US).

The double standard of naming the presumed innocent accused while not naming the accuser (who, as every regular reader here knows, could be lying), is typically seen in the context of criminal cases. The persons behind the double standard justify it on the ground that to name the accuser would serve to "discourag[e] . . . victims from coming forward."

We don't want to discourage possible rape victims from "coming forward". . . to do what? Well, for one thing, we don't want to discourage them from reporting a crime that is regarded as the second most serious on our criminal books (after murder) given that such reporting can help bring the alleged rapist to justice, and thereby protect other innocent women. There are arguments justifying anonymity in this instance -- I don't happen to agree with them, but they do, at least, have a semblance of rationality.

So, exactly why should this be applicable to rape allegations made in connection with civil actions where, long after the alleged incident, no criminal complaint has been filed?

The fact is, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and like-minded publications do not want to discourage women from "coming forward" to file civil actions that, if successful, will only enrich the coffers of the accuser and her counsel but will leave the putative rapist on the street where he can rape other women.

What precise public policy interest is served by not naming those accusers who do what they do for themselves? Why does a private complaint involving a private cause of action between private citizens justify such special treatment?

The answer is, it doesn't, of course. It is a bow to political pressures and political correctness by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and other newspapers that do the same thing. It is not fair to Mr. Roethlisberger or to the other persons civilly sued for torts based on alleged sexual assault. And it is not fair to other men the anonymous accuser might someday accuse -- they will have a much more difficult time learning that she's a serial accuser if the secrecy of her identity is guarded with all the tenacity that Clark Kent uses to keep people from knowing he's Superman.

The fact is, asymmetrical anonymity can never really be justified, in either the criminal or the civil law settings. Alan Dershowitz said it best: "People who have gone to the police and publicly invoked the criminal process and accused somebody of a serious crime such as rape must be identified," he said. "In this country there is no such thing and should not be such a thing as anonymous accusation. If your name is in court it is a logical extension that it should be printed in the media. How can you publish the name of the presumptively innocent accused but not the name of the accuser?"