Legislature rethinks bill to keep rape victims’ names off the record

Thursday, April 2, 1998

Everyone loves the idea of protecting victims of crime, but it is bad public policy to let rape victims use pseudonyms for identification purposes in public records, says Mark Thomas of the Oklahoma Press Association.

Thomas said that he was successful in getting Jari Askins (D-Duncan) to reconsider her rape-victim name bill. The Oklahoma House on Wednesday voted unanimously to send the legislation to a conference committee to address the press association's concerns.

The measure, which passed the Senate unanimously in March, would allow victims of sex crimes to use their initials or a fictitious name in all public records concerning the offense, including police records and during courtroom testimony.

“What's the next logical step?” Thomas asks. “Will they introduce legislation to prevent the identification of robbery victims … hit-and-run victims … kidnapping victims? Will they use pseudonyms for any kind of victim of any kind of crime? Is that the next logical extension of this?”

“It's a bad policy,” said Thomas, executive vice president of the Edmond-based group. “If you knew the name of the accuser, you could back up the circumstances.

“Now you are going to have a court document that will say 'Sally Sue' accuses 'an identified person' of sexual assault, but you don't know who Sally Sue is. Giving somebody the freedom to use a pseudonym will probably encourage a lot more people to file suits,” he said.

In most cases, victims' fear and privacy concerns prompt lawmakers to enact such legislation, says Cheryl Kelley, director of Tulsa Call Rape, a nonprofit crisis and counseling group.

Kelly said: “Rape victims may be threatened by the rapist to come back and get them or their family. Or, if they're raped outside of their home such as out in their car, they're eager to protect where they live for fear of being harassed. Also, rape victims are very embarrassed and have a desire to protect their privacy–even from their own husband. All those kinds of things often contribute” to rape-victim identification bills.

Mick Hinton, a reporter for The Daily Oklahoman's capital bureau, said: “My concern is that in a free society the accused has a right to know who the accuser is, or at least that should be done in an open forum, because there are instances when the accused in a rape case may be falsely accused.”

Hinton agrees with Thomas that in the future legislators “may choose to prohibit publishing the names of other crime victims. On the surface that type of legislation sounds good–we're protecting the victim–but at some point we have to afford the same protection to the accused until they are proven guilty.”

Hinton also notes that Oklahoma lawmakers fail to cite a single example of a rape victim being victimized by the media. He says the legislation is not necessary. “If something's not broke, why fix it?” he asks.

Thomas reinforced that point. “By and large, the media in Oklahoma have not had one incident of naming a rape victim in the media. This legislation was not created because of a story here or because of some circumstance.”

Askins' press secretary said that the committee will likely reach agreement in early May.