As a victim advocate, I am asking the Peru Tribune and Peru Indiana Today to take a more thoughtful approach when publishing stories about victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. Our local news media currently publishes nearly every detail in the probable cause affidavits for these crimes. Probable cause affidavits are sworn statements made by the police to support arrests and search warrants. They contain incredibly sensitive details about victims and can actually do more harm than good when published without regard for victims.
Publishing entire probable cause affidavits in these cases goes beyond what the public needs to know and has a negative impact on victims. More sensitive coverage still raises awareness and keeps the public informed, but it also encourages them to report these crimes and empowers them to reach out to all of the support or services available in our community.
In addition to re-victimizing current victims, too much information released for public consumption has a chilling impact on future victims. Sexual assault is an extremely under-reported crime in our state and our community. What incentive does a victim who is already struggling with the loss of power and control that comes with sexual violence to seek help from the police if every salacious detail of the assault is going to be printed on the front page of our community newspapers? Crimes of sexual and domestic violence are about one individual exercising power and control over another, and publishing every detail of the violation re- victimizes and retraumatizes a victim unnecessarily.
Our community will be better served when our media stops publishing every detail in probable cause affidavits in a perfunctory manner and starts balancing the public’s need and right to know with the victim’s need and right for privacy.
Heidi Wright Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Victim Advocate for Miami and Cass County
Family Service Association
Peru Indiana Today takes a very serious approach to victim’s rights. It is sometimes difficult to balance the public’s right to know about the actions of their government with the protection of a crime victim’s identity.
The probable cause reports that come from the prosecutor’s office and other law enforcement agencies always have victim’s identity redacted prior to being sent to the news media. It is, however, possible for people to speculate on the identity of the victim by the nature of the crime committed. For example, if one spouse were to batter the other spouse, it is possible to identify the victim based on reporting the name and the charge. This is possible even if that is all we do.
Like all organizations, we have sometimes made mistakes. When we have made those mistakes, we do our best to learn from them and move forward in a positive way. This has caused us to reduce the amount of information that we share on these reports and on more than one occasion, to decide to not even write an article after receiving the information about the arrest from the government.
In a country that places a very high value on the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press to report on the actions of the government, it is inevitable that sometimes the public and government agencies will be unhappy with the publishing decisions of a news outlet.
We sincerely believe that one of the most important pillars of our democracy is an unfettered press free to report on the actions of the government. This must include law enforcement. We do our best to balance the public’s right to know with the rights of the victims. It is not an easy task, but it is one we take very seriously.