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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Naming Survivors of Sexual Assault

Bella Rios

Bella Rios was a 2018-2019 Hackworth Fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

Ana is writing an article about the consequences of the new federal guidelines for sexual misconduct cases on college campuses. These changes will bolster the rights of the accused by requiring colleges to allow accused students to cross-examine their accuser at a hearing, and banning the use of single investigators for cases.  It also redefines sexual assault from “unwanted sexual misconduct” to “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person equal access to the recipient's education program or activity."

Campus advocacy groups, including the Violence Prevention Program and Feminists for Justice, argue that these changes will further dissuade survivors of sexual assault from reporting and protect the accused.

Ana interviews several survivors of sexual assault, and asks for their opinions on the federal guidelines. One of the survivors, Alexandra, talks about the trauma following her assault and her hesitation in reporting the perpetrator.

She says, “I’m scared to report because I don’t want to relive my trauma if the perpetrator will not be held accountable for his action. I can’t report now because it would be emotionally difficult to face my abuser directly and answer his cross-examination questions.”

Alexandra then asks for her name to be redacted from the article, fearful of the social repercussions for publicizing her experiences.

Ana recognizes the vulnerability of Alexandra’s situation and sympathizes with her traumatic experiences. She understands the stigma surrounding sexual assault survivors, including the shame for reporting their cases.

However, she worries that in granting confidentiality to survivors, her article inadvertently perpetuates taboos regarding sexual assault. She does not want to imply that survivors should be ashamed of their experiences. She wonders if granting Alexandra confidentiality will also fuel public speculation that survivors of sexual assault are fabricating their claims.

Discussion Questions

1) Under what circumstances should confidentiality be granted to sources?
2) What are the consequences of granting confidentiality to survivors of sexual assault?
3) What is the harm of disclosing the names of survivors of sexual assault?
4) How should Ana approach this situation?

Jun 7, 2019