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Bridgewater State Student Paper Controversy: Latest In Complicated History Of Media Coverage Of Rape

A student-newspaper at Bridgewater State University recently made the decision to print the name of a sexual assault victim who spoke out at a “Take Back the Night” rally sponsored by the university’s school of social work. The decision  has caused an uproar around the community, including calls for the story to be removed from the paper’s website.

The victim, speaking in front of a crowd of about 200, said that before transferring to Bridgewater she was raped by her ex-boyfriend in the basement of a dorm after a party.

Though it isn’t against the law, newspapers across the country have long held a tradition of withholding the names of rape and sexual assault victims, and only publishing them with the consent of the victim.

The student reporter caused further outrage by including additional information about the student victim that had been gathered from publicly accessible social media sites.

The student newspaper says it was doing its job of covering the event – and that there “is implied consent when someone speaks in a public forum.” And about digging around social media, the newspaper said was just good modern-day journalism at work.

We’ll examine the Bridgewater situation, and dig into the complicated history of how the media covers sexual assault.

Guests:

  • Helen Benedict, journalism professor, Columbia University; author, “Virgin or Vamp: How the Press Covers Sex Crimes”
  • Kelly McBride, senior faculty, Poynter Institute

Other stories from this show:

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  • Matthew

    I’m a student at Bridgewater State with a background in journalism and I share the outrage on campus that The Comment let this happen. Publishing the victim’s name is contrary to standard journalistic ethics, and the fact that the paper is trying to claim freedom of the press in their defense is absurd. There is a long history of student publications being suppressed by school administrations for being outspoken on controversial subjects, and protections for those papers is essential. This is not like that. It wasn’t a journalistic decision to publish the victim’s was name. It was a mistake, and it’s offensive to serious reporting that they’re trying to hide be behind free press like this.

  • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

    If her name was made public in the presentation, anyone with a phone cam could  have captured it and put it on youtube. That might have even been more broad than a campus newspaper article.

    I understand the call for privacy, but I think if you make public statements you lose control over that.

    • natrl

      According to other sources the student did not use her real name in the public presentation. 

  • Roy Mac

    Beside making a point in journalism class, what is being said here?  People need to be protected from themselves?

  • Mary

    Wow. Nice victim shaming by the Poynter Institute.

  • Jason_Bridgewater

    I don’t know if I’d call “The Comment” journalism. I also think the folks on your program are being far too nice to the editor-in-chief of said newspaper. In an opinion piece called “If I am wrong to be proud, I don’t know what’s right” she typed the following:

    “One piece of feedback I got will always make me smile to think about: ‘The Comment was never as sexy as it is this year.’ I happen to agree.”

    If you think that this entire scandal is “sexy” – there’s a problem. This is disgusting.

    http://www.bsccomment.com/opinion/if-i-am-wrong-to-be-proud-i-don-t-know-what-s-right-1.2860464#.T6Kq8NUYm1k

  • student

    As a student at Bridgewater State and one of the organizers of the Take Back the Night Event, I am extremely disappointed in The Comment’s coverage of the event. One point that has failed to be mentioned thus far is that this student specifically stated during her speech that  she was not naming the school the rape occurred at and  that she was changing the names of the individuals involved. The Comment then proceeded to dig around and publish the information that this student withheld from the public. I understand that this speech was given in a public forum and therefore the media had access to the information provided during the speech however; the fact that The Comment published information that the speaker made a point of not sharing is infuriating. 

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