Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Ethics Question + Update

Tell me what you think:

Is it appropriate for a news agency to identify an alleged sexual assault victim by their initials?

The reason for the question relates to the following news story.

I'll quote directly from the Anchorage Daily News for the facts since I have absolutely no problem with their reportage on this one:

An Anchorage man killed on New Year's Day was stabbed numerous times in a confrontation with a man he accused of raping his girlfriend’s teenage daughter, according to formal charges filed Tuesday.

Keilan Ebli, 20, of Anchorage was charged with first-degree murder, first- and second-degree sexual assault and tampering with evidence in connection with the death of William Oestreich. Ebli was scheduled to appear in court this afternoon along with a suspect in an unrelated New Year’s Day shooting that left two people dead.

Oestreich, 45, had gone with his girlfriend to pick up the woman’s daughter from an apartment in the 600 block of east 16th Avenue early Monday morning.

The couple went there in response to a call from the girl that she woke up naked on the floor of Ebli’s bedroom and had been raped by him, according to charging documents. The girl had arrived earlier by cab and was “very intoxicated,” Ebli’s roommate told police.

The mother told police that Oestreich hit Ebli, possibly with a bottle. The men began arguing until downstairs tenants told Ebli to quiet down and persuaded Oestreich to leave.

Soon after Ebli ran down the stairs past the tenants, yelling “I’m going to kill you” and carrying a knife, court records say. When he returned, Ebli told them he had stabbed the man and the tenants then found Oestreich lying on the street bleeding, according to the court records.

Police were called and arrived shortly after 4 a.m. Monday. Oestreich was taken to an Anchorage hospital, where he died during surgery.

Officers found Ebli hiding under a bed, according to the court records. He told police he was intoxicated when the girl arrived and that they had consensual sex but that the girl got upset when she couldn’t find her clothes.

Ebli also told police he was sleeping when Oestreich hit him on the head. The court papers say Ebli had a cut on the back of his head that required medical attention.

Ebli denied any knowledge about the stabbing. Police found several knives in the apartment that tested positive for blood as well as a towel bearing the bloody shape of a knife, according to court documents. Blood also was found in the bedroom and outside the apartment leading to the street.

Ebli was arrested and was being held on $200,000 cash-only bail.

This is pretty sensational by Los Anchorage standards so it's fair that all media outlets have been reporting extensively about the homicide.

One TV news station, which I will not name, during their report on the nightly news tonight mentioned the alleged sexual assault victim's initials no less than 4 times by the reporter and a fifth time by showing a clip of the judge at the suspect's arraignment reading the portion of the bail which mentioned no contact with the victim.

I don't know how old the sexual assault victim is but another station's website (KTVA CBS Channel 11) reported: " According to charging documents in the case, Ebli sexually assaulted, then raped an underage girl as she was passed out drunk in his apartment."

So she's a minor too? What is gained by disclosing the initials of a juvenile sexual assault victim?

Tell me I'm overreacting.

Oh and I have an email in to the folks at the news station. I’m interested to see what they have to say.


Anchorage Daily News Story

KTVA News Story


UPDATE: 1/3/2007

I have my answer.
For the record, the news agency was KTUU Channel 2 Newshour, the reporter was
Rebecca Palsha, and the managing editor is Jason Moore.
I sent Moore (and cc'd Palsha) the following email: 
Is it standard practice to identify the initials of a sexual
assault victim?
During the 6 o'clock news report tonight (12/2/07) regarding the Oestreich homicide
reporter Rebecca Palsha referred to a sexual assault victim by her initials no less
than 4 times in addition to showing a clip of the judge at the arraignment saying the
initials (there was clearly no other reason for this clip to be shown).
While I realize that the initials were available in court documents and were spoken
aloud by the judge at the suspect's arraignment, what is the rationale behind using
the initials over and over during a broadcast? Why on earth would you seek to identify
a sexual assault victim to the public? It would not be difficult for even casual
acquaintances of the family to piece together the identity of the victim by her initials.
I am curious as to the editorial thought process behind this decision.
Thank you in advance for responding,
 Eric Anderson
I received the following response from Jason Moore:
Mr. Anderson,
A manager here did review the Rebecca script and felt as though the initials
gave the victim adequate anonymity. We discussed it this morning and realize
it was probably not the right decision and will make future references to sexual
assault victims in more general terms such as "the victim."
Which is really all I wanted to hear.   
I sent him a quick reply thanking him, mentioning that I
had thought I was watching FOX for a moment, and adding
with relief that I would continue to be a faithful watcher of
the Newshour.

** Another update!! **

This from Steve Mac Donald, Assistant News Director:

Dear Mr. Anderson,

We clearly made a mistake. We never should have used the
victims initials. In past stories of this nature we've either
made up initials or simply referred to the person as
"the victim."
I've spoken to the reporter and the person who checked her
script to make sure this error is never repeated.
It is something that should never have aired and feel
terrible that it did. We've always taken great care in
protecting victims of sexual crimes always siding with more
protection rather than less.
We will do our best to never do this again.
Thank you for writing.


Steve Mac Donald

Ch 2 News


Kelly said...

I just wanted to thank you for the comment on my blog. I'm still trying to get my mom to go to the doctor. She finally promised me she'd call today and get an appointment.

jen said...

i couldn't agree with you more. that seems an egregious and unnecessary intrusion. it's just too close for comfort to the victim's identity. you might actually be able to figure out her name if her mother's name was mentioned at any point in the story. and, besides, what is the point? why does that id need to be made AT ALL? the fact that she's a minor makes it all the more ridiculous. that tv station's got some 'splainin to do.

please let me know if you get a response from them...i'm very curious to see their rationalization for this.

breasier said...

Good for you, sugar. You did a service for all victims.

ANO said...

I'm glad something came of your question! I've never heard of an assult victim being named by their intials before.

Atleast they've learned from their mistake and I hope that the victim doesn't feel victimized all over again.

jen said...

bravo! i'm glad you brought it to their attention and i'm equally glad they've agreed not to do it again.

Brenda said...

Yes, you are overreacting. I would be the first to side with those making accusations of sexual assault. But the man who attacked Ebli, Bill Oestreich, tried to murder my friends mother and was out of jail less then a year for it when he assaulted Mr. Ebli. I dont know Ebli from Adam, but I could write a book about the sicko monster William Bruce Oestreich. I always knew that someone would eventually get the upper hand on Bill and take him out someday. Good riddance!!!!

Anonymous said...

What Brenda said was horrible.I was a family member.Bill was a good man.He was just trying to stick up for the girl.What would you do if you got a call from your friends daughter saying she was raped?
What Bill did to Ebli doesn't even compare to what Ebli did.A monster doesn't near describe Bill it describes Ebli.

Anonymous said...

People should really be a little more considerate Bill may have not been perfect but he was truly loved and missed very much .As for bill trying to kill someone I doubt that I lived with the man for eight years. I can say I think I knew he very well I think your friends mother stretched the truth a little. You can look up his record I did there isn’t even an assault charge. I will be the first to say he was no saint .He will be missed.