An exceptional case

Hartford Courant names rape victim

The Hartford Courant recently identified a rape victim, but the paper’s no-names policy will remain the same for stories involving sexual assault.

By Robin Hughes, editor

Author bio information is from the time of article submission and may not be current.

Source: FineLine: The Newsletter On Journalism Ethics, vol. 2, no. 7 (October 1990), p. 4.

This case was produced for FineLine, a publication of Billy Goat Strut Publishing, 600 East Main Street, Louisville, Kentucky 40202. Reprinted with the permission of Billy Goat Strut Publishing. This case may be reproduced for classroom and research purposes. Publication of this case in electronic or printed form requires written permission from the publisher and Indiana University. An exception is granted for use in readers designed for specific academic courses.

 

Fredrica Gray didn’t want to be known for the rest of her life as “the woman who was raped,” but Gray, who is executive director of Connecticut’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women and a leading advocate for women’s issues, thought it was important that her story be told. 

The Hartford Courant helped tell it.

In a two-part story published September 2-3, Fredrica Gray discussed the fear, pain and anger resulting from the attack and the healing process which eventually began. An editor’s note said Gray hoped her story “would lead to more understanding of the crime” and would “inspire a serious examination of the causes of violence against women.”

“She also hopes her story will tell women who are victims of sexual assault that they can report it, recover from it, and resume their lives,” the editor’s note said.

Like many newspapers, the Courant doesn’t normally publish the names of rape victims. Tom Condon, who reported Gray’s story with Glenda Buell, said an exception to the policy wasn’t made without discussion.

“(Executive Editor) Mike Waller met with her (Gray) for two hours to make sure she knew what she was getting into.” Condon said “300,000 read the Sunday Courant” and they wanted Gray to realize the story might prompt crank calls.

A sidebar story by Courant staff writer Colin McEnroe examined the news media’s tradition, now showing some signs of change, of shielding rape victims from public view. McEnroe wrote that some found in this no-names policy “a touch of the Edwardian gentleman wrapping his greatcoat around the wronged woman.”

Identifying Fredrica Gray apparently doesn’t signal wholesale changes in the Courant‘s no-names policy. McEnroe quoted Waller as saying, “We don’t name victims of rape at any stage . . . The only exception would be a request by somebody to be named and tell their story.”

They cooperated with Gray, Waller said, because her background as a public figure convinced editors that she understood the possible consequences. Waller told McEnroe that in most cases he would be reluctant to identify rape victims at their request because they wouldn’t fully comprehend “what they were getting themselves into by having their names published before half a million people and what the possible fallout could be of that.”

The Courant has had an overwhelmingly positive response, readers commending Fredrica Gray for her willingness to share her story and the newspaper for providing a forum.