Readers' Representative Journal

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Naming sex-crime victims

February 15, 2008 |  6:00 am

Asked Dawna Kaufmann of Los Angeles in an e-mail: "Why did your reporter name the woman who [said she] was groped by a physician during a legal procedure to terminate her pregnancy? She was a victim, and by naming her, and giving her age and city, you may have put her life at risk."

The article was about allegations against medical facilities for improperly performing abortions. The passage the reader criticized was this: "One of the patients, Sherman Oaks resident Yvette Chambers, 43,  said in a phone interview that Reich groped her breasts and asked explicit questions during an abortion at a Van Nuys clinic."

Yet another woman in the article was, as the story said, "identified only as Angela P. in records of the Medical Board of California." Angela P. had required aid from paramedics after going to the Clinica Medica Para la Mujer de Hoy in Santa Ana for an abortion.

In a story that dealt with sensitive issues that might involve individuals who would have some expectation of privacy, why was one woman named, and the other not?

Reporter Tiffany Hsu got back immediately with the answer: "Yvette Chambers was very vocal in the press about this incident -- her name has appeared on CNN and the Daily News. She now considers herself a sort of spokeswoman, a face so to speak for other women who claim to have been molested by Reich, and said she has moved on and is therefore willing to have her name published."

The editor of the piece, Sue Horton, added: "Right. Our policy has never been to force people to be anonymous. If someone wants to speak on the record, we don't tell them they can't. Some victims of sex crimes say they would feel further violated by having their names in the newspaper, and others want their names used, saying it's empowering in some way. We named many priest molestation victims who are now adults and wanted to speak on the record. In most circumstances, we don't name victims of molestation or rape unless they tell us it's OK. But even that isn't an absolute. We have occasionally named victims who became part of public proceedings for a variety of reasons. But the one certainty is that we never name someone who hasn't specifically said it's OK without a lot of thought and discussion."

Here's the guideline for naming rape victims, from the L.A. Times stylebook: "The Times does not name rape victims in most cases. Any exception to this standard, for whatever reason, must be approved by the editor, the managing editor, the associate editor or the senior editor."