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Blaming the victim and anonymous LTTE

By Scott Tibbs, March 1, 2013

In the February 13 Indiana Daily Student, there was a letter to the editor by Michael Barbieri that a number of people found offensive, coming close to (if not explicitly) blaming the victim of a rape for the crime committed against her. A rape survivor wrote a letter to the editor in response criticizing the original letter and the author.

Clearly, there is nothing wrong with educating women on how to be safe from sexual assault and how not to put themselves in dangerous situations, any more than it is wrong to educate people about keeping their valuables from being stolen. (Obviously, rape is many orders of magnitude worse than theft.) But there is a fine line where encouraging women to be safe becomes casting blame on the victim for the crimes committed against her.

Both letters have problems. The first letter complains that the victim " is portrayed as a completely innocent victim who had no part in the events which occurred" and that "she had a role to play in the assault as well." In the story he is responding to, the victim acted unwisely - taking a man she had just met back to her home to "make out." But acting in an unwise manner does not equate to having a "role" in the crime committed against her. There is only one person responsible for forcing sex on the victim, and no one else played a role - the blame belongs only to the rapist.

The second letter has problems too. Barbieri clearly said that the man "should go to jail." The LTTE submitted by "Rachel" in response argued that "nothing a rape survivor could have or could not have done justifies being raped." She continued to accuse Barbieri of holding the belief that "men are superior to women, and that women are only here for menís sexual desires." Barbieri did not say anything of the sort in his letter - "Rachel" is making a lot of assumptions without any evidence. It is unfortunate that the IDS allowed those specific accusations against Barbieri to be printed without evidence to back them up.

But that is not my primary problem with this LTTE. My primary problem is that "Rachel" was permitted to be anonymous. The editor's note on the LTTE explained that the IDS does not publish the full names of sexual assault victims due to their code of ethics. In most other situations, this is perfectly fine. In this case, "Rachel" is harshly criticizing another individual by name, and yet is not required to reveal her own name.

I have long been critical of anonymity on the Internet, as the lack of accountability enables and encourages people to say things they would never say if they were held accountable by name in a public forum. One of the advantages that a newspaper's LTTE section has over online comments is that if you are going to criticize someone else by name, you have to subject yourself to the same level of criticism.

It is fine to allow rape survivors who are telling their stories to remain anonymous, as they can be performing a public service by speaking out - even anonymously. But criticizing someone by name in the newspaper is another matter entirely. This was a bad call by the Indiana Daily Student. They should have told "Rachel" that she either needs to allow her full name to be published or her letter would not be printed.