Journalists must balance compassion with verification when interviewing sexual assault complainants.
By Kathy English for the Toronto Star
It has long been the Toronto Star’s policy not to name the victims of alleged sexual assault.
That is in line with provisions of Canada’s Criminal Code, which makes a ban on publication of the identity of a sexual assault complainant mandatory if requested by the Crown or the victim. In such cases, the Crown should have consulted with the complainant and made clear the implications of a ban that not only blocks the media from naming her (or him) but can also make it difficult for her to speak publicly about her experience even years after.
Not all sexual violence complainants want to be silenced forever.
Indeed, there are times — rare, but increasing — when some individuals want to be publicly identified in sharing their stories of how sexual violence affected their lives. In such cases, the Star’s policy allows for victims of alleged sexual assault to be indentified with their consent.
Our policy says nothing about the ethical issues to be considered when a sexual assault complainant decides to speak openly to the media. It provides no compass for how journalists can report with sensitivity on sexual assault and at the same time live up to the journalistic responsibility to question and seek to verify whatever we report.