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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Protecting Identities of Sexual Assault Victims

David Yarnold and Susan Goldberg

When a 9-year-old San Jose girl was abducted from her home one Friday afternoon, we hit the story with everything we had. We had her name and photo splashed on front page for the next two days. On Monday, June 9, our paper blared the news that she had been found safe, along with a photograph of her leaving the East Palo Alto Police Department. We later learned she had been sexually assaulted. It's our policy not to name victims of sexual assault. We stopped using her name and photograph.

Key Questions:

  • In a child abduction case, should a newspaper assume that the child is being sexually assaulted and not use a name or photograph?
  • And if the paper has named a child who is later found, isn't the cat out of the bag? Isn't it acceptable to continue naming the child?
  • Is there a middle ground that newspapers could adopt to protect a missing child's identity yet still provide enough descriptive information to help those searching the child?

A case prepared by David Yarnold, Editor, San Jose Mercury News and Susan Goldberg, Executive Editor, San Jose Mercury News.

Jan 1, 2005