Union Minister Shashi Tharoor kicked off a debate when he tweeted that the rape victim’s identity should be made public and a new rape law should be named after the victim.
One of the most sensational cases where the freedom of the press to name the victim came into focus in USA was in 1991. A woman was allegedly raped by William Kennedy Smith, the thirty-year-old nephew of Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy. One month after the incident, a British tabloid identified the victim which was followed by a US tabloid and a TV channel. The prestigious New York Times went into detail about the woman.
A public outcry against the media coverage forced public prosecutor of the case to file a case against Globe published from Florida. In US and democratic western countries, the US First Amendment gives absolute freedom of speech and any infringement is not permitted.
There is no constitutional protection for rape victims from seeking privacy since over the years the US Supreme Court has been balancing between the media’s rights under the First Amendment and the rape victims need to keep the identity hidden.
The court has taken the view by imposing fines on the media that reports it is going against the First Amendment but has balanced it with some restrictions on the merit of the case like a gag order by the court on reporting the trial and in camera trial.
It has also drawn some parameters like if the case charge sheet mentions the victim’s name, then if this is quoted then it’s not a violation of privacy since this is a public material and only the trial court can decide whether to allow it to be made public.
Many States across US have made changes to protect the rape victim’s identity. It is left for media to express self-restraint but polls say that at times media does not show sensitivity to a rape victim.
Each time a rape victim’s name is mentioned in the media, it is like being raped again. Except for the nearby locality and kith and kin, the identity is not made public. In a country like India, where arranged marriages are order of the day and khaps rule the countryside, the revealing of the rape victim’s identity can affect even distant relatives and friends. The social stigma attached to the rape victim leads to many cases going unreported or made public. To change this perspective would be to keep trail in camera and a mandatory gag order by the court.
Zee News putting on air the interview of the dead rape victim’s friend who travelled with her in the fateful night is a clean give away. On Friday before the telecast, the channel ran a scroll that it was to telecast the interview but no one managed to get a court injunction to stop it.
Shashi Tharoor was reprimanded by the Congress for making public his views when he is a minister. He should have realized that nobody stands to gain by disclosing the rape victim’s identity. The next demand by Tharoor that the new rape law be named after the Delhi gang rape victim should have known that India does not name law after an individual.