Reporting Rape: To name or not to name?

One of the ethical topics we discussed in class with Professor Dan Kennedy is the current case of Northeastern student Morgan Helfman who has filed a lawsuit against the university and several university administrators and staff linked to the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (OSCCR), residential life and student affairs. She filed the lawsuit based on the accusation that the university had mishandled the campus proceedings that found him not responsible for violating Northeastern’s Code of Student Conduct (CSC)’s definition of sexual assault. The Huntington News wrote an excellent article of the whole case and got to hear from Elise, who took part in the reporting.

The ethical issue at hand was omitting the name of the accused rapist in the article. While Helfman was intent on making this case known and her name out there, the alleged rapist had declined to comment and requested HuntNews not to publish his name. My initial response to the case was that his name should be published, since it was on public record as part of the court documents anyway. However, I knew that besides his name being public already, I knew that one of the reasons I leaned towards that decision lies in my emotional reaction to the case and Hellman’s plight. It seemed that she had tried everything in her power to avoid seeing him again, but the university failed to help her in any way. Northeastern’s mishandling of the case made me angry, and I knew I had taken a side. However, I knew that since he had not been charged and there is no concrete proof that he raped her, his name should not be published. HuntNews ultimately took the same position, deciding not to publish because it would tarnish his reputation and definitely stay with his name forever. He was also not part of the ongoing lawsuit that was the news at hand here. In my opinion, this was a touch decision to make and choosing not to name him reflected understanding and compassion from HuntNews who I believed did a solid job of telling Helfman’s story.

I think it’s interesting to talk about reporting on rape from this angle – should we publish the rapist’s name or not? Most of the time when we talk about rape, the issue is on naming the victim and the effects of reporting on the victim’s history and the case itself. This is the first time I’ve been part of a discussion on rape from this angle. We have spent time in previous classes however talking about how rapists and victims have been unfairly portrayed by the media such as the case of Brock Turner, which I found completely disgusting.


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