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December 16, 2010

Should the media use alleged rape victim’s initials?

by Deena Winter

I’m perplexed by the way the Lincoln Journal Star is handling the identity of a woman who made new allegations against the man being held in connection with the disappearance of a 19-year-old Bellevue woman at Peru State College.
Joshua Keadle is jailed on charges relating to the disappearance of Tyler Thomas. The day after his arrest, another 18-year-old woman came forward and accused him of repeatedly raping her and threatening to throw her in the Missouri River.
This is a horrible story, but what keeps catching my eye in Journal Star coverage is their decision to refer to the second woman, the 18-year-old, by the initials used in court documents. I don’t know if those are her actual initials, but in my experience covering courts, they usually are.
But whether they are or not, using the initials will only lead to speculation about which Peru State student it is — further victimizing the woman.
Figuring out how to identify accusers of rape and other crimes is always tricky: The media rarely names the accuser; usually only the accused. This often prompts a newsroom debate, depending on the case. Most newsrooms have written policies on the subject — which is appropriate.
The Omaha World-Herald used the initials in an earlier story, but then today did not use them. Hopefully, they re-evaluated.

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