Now That “Jackie” Is Discredited, Why Shouldn’t She Be Named?


In the 14 months since her story shocked the world in Rolling Stone magazine, a woman called “Jackie” has been at the heart of a national debate about sexual assaults on college campuses, has become embroiled in a media scandal, and is the central figure in a series of defamation lawsuits. There's one important fact missing about Jackie, the young woman who concocted a harrowing story about a gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity: her full name. The Washington Post says news organizations have declined to reveal Jackie's full identity since her now-discredited story appeared in November 2014. Her single-name identity — just Jackie — is in keeping with a long-standing journalistic convention against identifying alleged victims of sexual crimes to protect the accuser's privacy. As a result, news accounts of rape or sex-related crimes almost never name an accuser without their explicit permission, making it the only class of crime involving adults in which this practice is observed. No mainstream media outlet has reported Jackie's full name. Investigators for the Charlottesville, Va., police, who found no evidence to support her Jackie's story, haven't revealed it, either.

Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia University Journalism School, is against revealing Jackie's name. “It's an unusual situation … but I would not name her,” said Coll. “She never solicited Rolling Stone to be written about. She's not responsible for the journalism mistakes. To name her now just feels gratuitous, lacking sufficient public purpose.” Veteran journalist Geneva Overholser said silence and anonymity only perpetuate the social climate that rape victims and their advocates are fighting against. She argues that the practice of not naming names hasn't reduced the underreporting of sexual assaults or retaliation against accusers. “I think [Jackie] should have been named in the first place,” she said. The “protection” of anonymity the media grants accusers “was never an appropriate one for journalists to afford, because it implies that we know what party deserves protection when someone brings charges of rape. It implies that we can determine guilt or innocence.”

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