Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Women, Children, and Men

Kudos to Sean Flynn for his piece on the Michael Devlin kidnapping case. I have a bit of perspective to add, based in part on my experience as a military prosecutor.

There is an unfortunate and unfair tendency to blame male victims of sexual assault (no evidence of the same in the Devlin case, but Flynn's piece is speaking in the abstract). Even as society has gotten away from blaming female victims, there is still a spoken or unspoken question of "Why didn't he just ________?" in the case of male victims. Needless to say, if it is unfair to blame adult males, it is particularly unfair to blame children.

In defense of the media in this case, the typical model that we use to protect victims is not applicable. The standard media procedure is not to name a suspect without charges and not to name a victim at all. We all can remember the "blue dot" obscuring the identity of the alleged victim in the rape trial of William Kennedy Smith (she was later identified as Patricia Bowman). In the case of a missing child, it is incumbent on responsible media outlets to publicize the name and likeness of the child as much as possible in hopes of finding him/her. Later, if there is an assault alleged, the media do not have the option of keeping the victim's identity secret.

I don't have a solution for all of this, but something obviously needs to be done.


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