NOTE: The article excerpted on this page is from an outside publication and is posted on FIRE's website because it references FIRE's work. The viewpoints expressed in this article do not necessarily represent FIRE's positions.
By Amy Carboneau at The Enterprise
The editors of the Bridgewater State University newspaper, The Comment, arestanding firm on their decision to name a rape victim in the face of threats by the university president to shut down the paper.
Meanwhile, the woman at the center of the story, who gave an account of how she was once raped to about 200 people at an early April event, told The Enterprise Friday the student paper went too far.
"I hoped to share my story and the empowering message that you can overcome it," she said. "I was aware it was a public event, but I didn’t think anyone would take my story and publicize it. I understand the freedom of speech and freedom of press, but there is a line that you shouldn’t cross."
On April 12, The Comment, which covered the public event, reported the name of the rape victim and where the incident had happened without her knowledge. The incident prompted a harsh response from the college, a campus police investigation into the theft of hundreds of newspapers carrying the story, and media attention on the university.
The editor of The comment, Mary Polleys, said she and her staff are standing by the author and the story and is frustrated by the lack of student support on campus for the student-run newspaper.
On Friday, a group of 15 students heard free speech advocate Adam Kissel, vice president of the nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, chastise the university president and urge students to raise the level of discourse.
"We’re going to stand by what we’ve done and how we feel about it," said Polleys, after listening to Kissel, who made an appearance on campus.
The student who recounted her rape incident said although she was upset at being named in the studentpaper, she believes messages like hers need to get out. "I don’t want people to feel like they shouldn’t be able to tell their story because of this," she said, adding she spent weeks preparing her presentation. "I don’t want people to be afraid to speak up and tell someone that this has happened to them."
The Enterprise is not naming the woman and does not publish the names of victims of sexual crimes without their consent.
The Comment reporter who wrote the story based it on a public event that took place on campus, at which the victim gave her name and told her story to a crowd of about 200. The reporter did not approach the woman before publishing her story, raising a debate as to whether the paper crossed an ethical line.
Media expert Kenny Irby, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, a journalism think-tank, said the student reporter is "protected" because the victim disclosed her name and told her story in public.
"But what you can do and what you should do is not the same thing," he added.
The guiding principle in journalism is to protect children and victims, Irby said. "That’s what mainstream media would do."
The Comment has received backlash from the victim, from those in the community’s Greek life standing up for her, and from university President Dana Mohler-Faria. Mohler-Faria called Polleys and newspaper advisor Dave Copeland into his office Wednesday. University spokesman Bryan Baldwin, who spoke for the BSU president, would not say what the meeting accomplished and whether the administration threatened to take action against the newspaper. But both Copeland, a part-time english and journalism professor, and Polleys say it did.
That caught several Bridgewater State students off guard.
"In a place like a college campus, free speech is generally very supported," said Lucas Rhodes, a second-year graduate student from Plymouth. "It’s surprising to hear the school administration would take the opposing view rather than support the newspaper, and their right to publish, especially given the events that have already happened this year."
In February, an editorial writer also at The Comment told police she had been punched for a pro-gay marriage editorial she penned.4/30/12 Rape victim says BSU campus newspaper report went too far –
"Threatening someone to take (the story) down is not an ideal situation," said Brockton junior Nicollette Lopez.
But Lopez sided with the victim over the paper, saying there should be barriers and the victim’s name should not be published.
"She goes here. This is her second home," Lopez said.
Schools: Bridgewater State University