(WOMENSENEWS)–A clear majority of the 820 readers who filled out the Women’s eNews online questionnaire felt that in both criminal and civil cases the media should use the names of accusers only with their permission, if at all. In addition, a large number of the respondents–37 percent–revealed that they themselves were victims of rape or sexual assault.

The written responses revealed that many respondents felt the arguments in favor of naming victims–specifically that it would help chip away at the stigma and shame that are still attached to the crime–were valid. One reader called the issue “terribly conflicting.”

But most still did not think the decision to reveal names should be outside of the victims’ control. “We can’t lessen the stigma of sexual assault in the long term by re-victimizing women now,” one respondent wrote. “No public ‘right to know’ supercedes the victim’s need to control her own destiny.”

The respondents’ backgrounds were as diverse as their opinions. Only 6 percent were employees of media organizations and the others ranged from college students to attorneys to a Franciscan nun.

In criminal cases, 57.5 percent of readers felt names of accusers should be used by the media only with permission, while 35.6 percent said they should not ever be used. Five percent believed they should be used regardless whether permission was granted, while 2 percent remained undecided.

A Victim Is a Victim Is a Victim

Of those who responded in favor of naming, 10 were also victims of sexual assault or rape, revealing that rape victims fall on both sides of the debate. “A victim is a victim, is a victim,” one reader wrote. “All should be encouraged to come forward for any crime . . . as we are not used property but strong survivors who must stop the criminals from hurting the next person.”

In civil matters, the numbers of those in favor of naming and those who couldn’t decide noticeably increased, with 11.5 percent in favor of naming and 3.8 percent undecided. While the majority continued to vote in favor of seeking permission or withholding names altogether, many acknowledged that the complexity of the issue increases when a civil suit is filed.

“Civil suits are different than criminal prosecutions, where the state (and not the individual victim) is pursuing charges,” wrote one reader. “Once the victim is a plaintiff, the privacy issue is different–she is entitled to less privacy.”

The responses often reflected strong, passionate convictions on the part of those in favor of, and also those opposed to, naming. One reader called naming without consent “barbaric and cruel,” while another added: “It’s bad enough to be raped; notoriety would be abominable.”

On the other side, several readers said that the media should either stop naming those accused of rape or should name all parties. One also pointed out that “not all who ‘claim’ to be victims are,” and not requiring them to identify themselves allows them to “hide behind a facade and make (the defendant’s) life miserable.”

Sexual Assault Victims Respond

The powerful response from victims of sexual assault and rape was perhaps the most eye-opening part of the survey. The 309 readers who responded to the survey had experienced rape or sexual assault and 40 of them chose to comment. Many admitted they did not report the crimes and many named family members, former spouses and close acquaintances as the perpetrators.

Some others wrote on behalf of friends and family members who had been raped, and many said that they had worked closely with victims through school counseling and crisis centers. A few added that being a rape victim is not a prerequisite for understanding the horror of the crime. One reader wrote: “I have four daughters, eleven granddaughters and eight great-granddaughters. One doesn’t have to be hurt to feel the pain of a victim.”

The responses were often emotional, full of anger, anguish and pride at having moved ahead with life in spite of it all. A few of the responses went even further, approaching the very heart of the naming issue. Those readers implied that if the language used–both in the media and in everyday conversation–can truly impact how we see those who accuse and those who are accused, then we need to look beyond just whether or not to use names. Instead, we need to start by reevaluating the word “victim” and find a more appropriate term.

“I was NEVER a victim,” one reader wrote. “I’m a survivor.”

Robin Hindery is a writer for Women’s eNews in New York City.

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Sex-Assault Survivors Deserve Names, Not Stigma: