Sex Crimes: How Much Does The Public Need To Know?
Posted by Mel Campbell on January 29, 2009
I hope we’d all agree that it’s better for crimes against women – especially sexual crimes – to be vigorously prosecuted, and for the details of these shocking offences to be made public so that the perpetrators are publicly shamed and in general these issues are talked about rather than swept under the carpet.
That said, there’s also a line between reporting a sex crime and finding its details titillating. I found the extreme detail in this report about the 2007 gang rape of a 13-year-old Sydney girl pretty upsetting to read:
Over the next few hours, the boys took turns entering the toilet cubicle, where they had oral sex with her.
One 15-year-old announced to the others “I’m going to root her”, but it took several unsuccessful attempts before he penetrated her while she experienced a tearing sensation that she said felt “terrible”.
When council workers interrupted them, they moved to a different public toilet in a nearby reserve where the activity continued, while outside the cubicle the boys made comments such as “smile like you’re enjoying it”.
They made her take off her clothes and watched one another violate her, causing her to bleed.
The issue here, I think, is to what extent journalists are obliged to report the particulars of a crime, especially if it involves children. (The victim in this case was 13; the perpetrators’ ages were not specified but at least one was 15.) I feel uncomfortable with the possibility that reporting of court cases like these is deliberately lurid because that way, the story is considered more ‘newsworthy’.
It’s illegal to name minors involved in court proceedings, but I can’t help but feel that the anonymity of both victim and perpetrator, coupled with the detailed description of the crime, dehumanises the crime. Does this then desensitise readers to horrific crimes in general? Elsewhere in journalism, it’s becoming common practice not to refer to the method of a suicide in case you give depressed people ideas, but what about giving potential sex offenders ideas?
This is an ethical issue I haven’t really worked out for myself yet, and I’m keen to hear your thoughts.