On July 18, Arizona Republic higher education reporter Anne Ryman asked to see the names of 36 sexual assault victims from crime reports filed with the Arizona State University (ASU) Police Department. (Ryman has been reporting on sexual violence at the school.)
Four months later, the journalist and Gannett’s lawyer are still fighting for the information, according to documents.
“[ASU chief media officer Sharon Keeler] stated the names would not be released on grounds that it would have a chilling effect on sexual violence reporting,” Gannett attorney Courtney French wrote a letter to ASU’s assistant police chief. “While we appreciate ASU’s efforts to ensure all incidents of sexual violence on campus are reported and investigated, withholding victims’ names is not consistent with Arizona law.”
The Arizona Criminal Code, says the newspaper’s lawyer, “requires the victim’s name to be made public [and] as a result, the ASU PD’s redaction of victims’ names in this case is unlawful.”
Still, the university continues to withhold the victims’ names; it says in an October 17 letter to the Republic that “we continue to believe that our initial determination was and is the proper one.”
ASU attorney Cynthia Jewett‘s letter continues:
Ms. Ryman informed the University’s Director of Communications that she was seeking the names for the purpose of contacting each sexual assault victim to see if s/he would discuss her or his experience in the criminal justice system. Given that ARS §13-4434 mandates the redaction of all identifying and locating information of a victim, it is unclear how a reporter would go about contacting an individual other than cold calling or contact through an email address and asking if s/he was the victim of a sexual assault referenced in a specific police incident report.
Such an approach is completely contrary to the leading guidance that universities, as well as law enforcement agencies, should be training and using trauma-informed and victim-centered protocols to encourage the reporting of sexual assaults and improve the rate of prosecutions for crimes of sexual violence.
ASU says it considered contacting the 36 sexual assault victims – to see if they wanted to talk to the reporter? – but “we concluded that making such a contact could be a trigger event that is inconsistent with a trauma-informed, victim-centered approach.”
The university says reminders of the attack or abuse can cause flashbacks, and “we believe cold calls or emails by a reporter to individuals who might possibly be the correct Jane or John Doe could also be a trigger event.”
ASU’s lawyer offers some journalistic advice: “While there may be sexual assault victims who would be willing to speak with Ms. Ryman, the method for engaging them is not through random cold calling. The Arizona Republic can certainly solicit individuals by posting such a request on the paper’s online site or by going to various biogs that focus on the topic of prevention of sexual violence.”
I don’t know what the newspaper’s next move is because Republic executive editor Nicole Carroll hasn’t responded to my email. Ryman writes in an email: “We don’t talk about reporting details before publication.” An ASU spokesperson declines to comment.
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