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Archive for the ‘ethics’ Category

Adding ID to injury

Posted by Noel Sanchez on October 17, 2008

The Gainesville Sun ran an article this week about a guy who had both of his arms broken by the same man in two separate attacks. The article really makes you feel bad for the guy. He apparently had an argument with the alleged attacker, who came at him with a brick one day and a metal pipe the next. After the second attack, the victim went to police and discovered that both of his arms were broken.

The strange thing here (other than the story itself) is that the story included the victim’s address. Newspapers usually include addresses of people in cops stories because they’re a good way of identifying a person when most of your information comes from the police and you don’t have much else to go on. Victims of assault, however, usually aren’t identified by address. It brings the potential for unwanted attention to someone who has already been put through an ordeal.

While the paper shouldn’t pass judgment on the guilt or innocence of anyone, it would be safe to treat this man as a victim after having both of his arms broken. Although the police have arrested the suspect, it’s entirely possible that some other people have a score to settle with this human punching bag, and the paper has some responsibility to protect him.

How far does that responsibility go? Should we not identify any sort of victim? What makes someone a victim? People who have been robbed are certainly victims, but I don’t seeĀ  much harm in identifying where they live. I know SPJ’s ethics guidelines say to be cautious about identifying victims of sex crimes, but what about other victims of assault? The code didn’t mention that issue specifically, but I feel like this would fall under the “minimize harm” section. This guy was a victim of a violent crime; I think it would have been smart to err on the side of caution.

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