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Reporting rape complex issue

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The reported sexual assault March 1 led to what I think is a very important discussion on how to inform a community about crime. While it seems obvious that people need to know about something like this, how much should be reported? What details are important and what is unnecessary?

To write the story, we had to get the police report, which included the alleged victim’s name and place of residence. During the process of writing the story, there was a lot of discussion in the newsroom about how we could report the crime as factually as possible without harming the reported victim. As journalists, we felt we were obligated to tell the public as much of the information we know as possible.

Lantern policy is to protect the identity of a victim of sexual assault, so we did not publish the name in the police report. We did report her dorm after a lengthy discussion.

We decided that because it was a residence hall, there were enough people who live there to avoid identifying the victim. We also thought it was relevant to the story. It is important for students to know the short distance she traveled when she was attacked, and how close to the dorm she was.

Many people have also questioned our use of the word “alleged” when reporting the crime. Some readers have even gone as far as saying that we don’t believe the alleged victim.
Our wording has nothing to do with what we think about the story, because as journalists we do not get to inject our opinion. We use the word “alleged” because there has been no trial to prove the crime or the perpetrator. According to Lantern policy, we also cannot definitively state something as fact if it hasn’t been proven. For all crime stories, unless someone was found guilty of a crime or it has been proven by police, we have to say “alleged” or something similar. We were not there to see the attack happen, and the police have not made an arrest, so for now, we have to say “alleged sexual assault” or “student says she was raped.”

I believe the reporter of the story did the best he could to convey the situation accurately and objectively to our readers. He followed all newspaper standards and discussed the story with our adviser and myself. He and I have also both dealt with crime reports at professional newspapers, so we used our experience to help guide our judgements.

It was never The Lantern’s intention to harm the alleged victim, or to at all undermine the validity of the story. Our intention was to alert students of a very serious reported crime that happened in their community, accurately and according to the standards of professional journalists. A rape on campus is something that all students should know about. They should know every detail of the situation, not just to know but so they can keep their eyes and ears open, and even avoid similar situations.

Readers e-mailed me to tell me that they were glad that The Lantern had worked to let the student body know of the situation. The university did not even address the issue until Friday with an e-mail from Student Life, so The Lantern definitely stuck to its purpose of informing students.

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