In de­fence of pub­li­ca­tion bans

The Compass - - OPINION -

Many fol­low­ers of the news in this re­gion ex­pressed ou­trage and dis­gust last week at rev­e­la­tions from a trial in provin­cial court in Har­bour Grace, in which a lo­cal woman is ac­cused of hor­ren­dous crimes as­so­ci­ated with the al­leged abuse of her chil­dren.

De­tails of the abuse came out dur­ing fi­nal ar­gu­ments in the case, and to say they were shock­ing would be an un­der­state­ment. Some ob­servers de­scribed it as the worst case of child abuse in re­cent mem­ory in this prov­ince.

On­line news sites and so­cial me­dia came alive with com­ments, with many ex­press­ing sym­pa­thy for the chil­dren, and how the abuse would scar their lives. And the amount of venom di­rected at the par­ents was chill­ing, though not en­tirely sur­pris­ing. Many called for swift and harsh — in some cases bar­baric — jus­tice.

There was also plenty of ques­tions and crit­i­cism about a court or­der pre­vent­ing the me­dia from re­veal­ing the iden­tity of the ac­cused, or any in­for­ma­tion that may lead to her iden­tity. As such, we did not pub­lish the home­town, age of the ac­cused or the num­ber of chil­dren in­volved.

Many felt this un­fairly shel­tered the mother from pub­lic scru­tiny, while her chil­dren were af­forded no such pro­tec­tion dur­ing their many years of al­leged mal­treat­ment.

Fact is, the pub­lic re­ac­tion to this case is ex­actly the rea­son pub­li­ca­tion bans were in­tro­duced in the first place; not to pro­tect the ac­cused, but the vic­tims of crime, in this case young chil­dren.

Un­der the Crim­i­nal Code, courts have a duty to or­der a pub­li­ca­tion ban to pro­tect the iden­tity of all vic­tims of sex­ual of­fences and wit­nesses of sex­ual of­fences who are less than 18 year-of-age. In cases such as this, the pub­lic’s right to know is, and right­fully so, over­shad­owed by the rights of the vic­tims.

If crit­ics of such bans were truly sym­pa­thetic to the atroc­i­ties en­dured by these young vic­tims, they would un­der­stand the ra­tio­nale for these pub­li­ca­tion bans. It’s bad enough these young chil­dren have to grow up liv­ing with such tor­ment and be­trayal. Why should their shame be in­ten­si­fied by news head­lines de­tail­ing their mon­strous treat­ment.

It’s a sad fact that most sex­ual as­saults are not re­ported to au­thor­i­ties, largely be­cause the vic­tim does not want any­one to know. How bad would the sit­u­a­tion be if these young vic­tims thought their names and the names of their as­sailants — in many cases a fam­ily mem­ber — would be pub­li­cized in news­pa­pers, broad­cast on ra­dio and tele­vi­sion sta­tions, or on­line news sites?

It’s a scary thought.

— Terry Roberts

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