Maine Brothel Case Issue: Should Media Publish Names Without Verification?


The first batch of men charged with being clients of a woman accused of turning her Zumba dance studio into a brothel included a former mayor and men from more than a dozen towns in Maine, reports the Associated Press. After confusion caused by the release of names without ages or addresses, a judge granted a request for additional information about the first 21 names out of what’s believed to be more than 150 men accused of paying a fitness instructor for sex. The list included former South Portland Mayor James Soule. The Kennebunk Police Department plans to release the remaining names of clients every other week as they’re issued summonses, meaning the disclosure of names could continue until the end of the year.

The first wave of names created havoc for some innocent men because the lack of addresses and dates of birth made it impossible to verify exactly who was among the accused. Portland Press Herald attorney Sigmund Schutz argued that releasing only partial information was unfair. “The fact is that by releasing names only, you’re getting a lot of false positives. You’re implicating people who may be completely innocent and simply share the same or similar names with people charged, and that’s a real harm,” Schutz said. Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute, a Florida-based journalism think tank, said that just because a name becomes public doesn’t mean news organizations have to race to publish it. “What journalistic purpose is served by publishing the name, and how do you balance that against the harm that may be done to these people, their families, their children?”

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