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editorial | RIGHTS ON CAMPUS

Free press at Bridgewater

A brave young woman stood on the Bridgewater State University campus and, using a bullhorn, told her story of being raped. She was identified by name to about 200 fellow students who attended a “Take Back the Night” rally.

The woman — who was also identified by name in a Facebook announcement about the event — was subsequently named in a story in The Comment, the Bridgewater State student newspaper. The article prompted protests from students and a request from Dana Mohler-Faria, the university president, that the newspaper take down the online version of the story. Mary Polleys, The Comment’s editor, refused to do so.

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It took courage for the rape victim to tell her story to fellow students. She deserves support for that decision. And so does The Comment, for reporting on it.

The rape victim disagreed, telling The Brockton Enterprise, “I hoped to share my story and the empowering message that you can overcome it. I was aware it was a public event, but I didn’t think anyone would take my story and publicize it.”

It’s hard not to sympathize with her, given the circumstances. But she disclosed her name in a public appearance. Her identity was not hidden in any way. A photograph of her standing, bullhorn in hand, appeared with the story.

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Given that scenario, it was fair for the newspaper to conclude that those actions made her appearance public enough to justify using her name. In an editorial, The Comment eloquently defended its decision, stating: “The Comment doesn’t publish the names of sex crime victims without their consent. But there is implied consent when someone speaks in a public forum.” Moreover, “the whole meaning of the rally was to encourage victims of sexual assault to speak up and not live in shame.”

The newspaper’s editorial also addressed the heart of the issue: The newspaper’s First Amendment right “to cover a public rally in a public area of a publicly funded university that was attended by more than 200 people.” That is the right the university president should be championing.

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