Should rape victim be identified in civil trial?

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Does a rape victim have a right to remain anonymous when she sues the shopping mall where the attack began?

That question is scheduled to be considered by the Pennsylvania Superior Court next month in the case of a Fox Chapel woman and her 16-month-old daughter, who were kidnapped outside Waterworks Mall by a career criminal.

Jimmy Lee Tayse held a knife to the baby's throat, then ordered the woman to drive him to Ohio. Once across the Pennsylvania line, Mr. Tayse raped the woman three times. He later robbed her and stole her vehicle before freeing the woman and her little girl in Cleveland.

An Ohio jury convicted Mr. Tayse of 14 felonies last fall. He is serving a prison sentence of 67 years to life, but another part of the case remains unsettled.

The woman and her husband, using the pseudonyms Jane and John Doe, are suing mall operator J.J. Gumberg Co. for monetary damages. They claim Gumberg failed to provide adequate security for mall customers.

The couple says Mr. Tayse, now 31, arrived at Waterworks Mall the night before the kidnapping and stayed in the parking lot until carjacking the woman and her baby in the late morning of April 7, 2007.

Thomas Gebler, the lawyer for Gumberg, did not respond to requests for comment. But in court filings, he said Gumberg provided proper security and was vigilant in assisting Pittsburgh police in fighting crime in and around Waterworks Mall.

Gumberg asked Common Pleas Court Judge Christine Ward to throw out the lawsuit, in part because the woman and her husband did not use their real names, as is typically required under state law.

In court papers, the rape victim said disclosing her name would "cause extreme, unnecessary embarrassment."

Judge Ward decided it was appropriate for the woman and her husband to go by pseudonyms in their lawsuit against Gumberg. But the company, based in Braddock Hills, appealed her ruling to the Superior Court. A three-member panel of judges will hear oral arguments Aug. 20 on whether her name must be revealed in the lawsuit.

A lawyer representing Gumberg attended Mr. Tayse's criminal trial in Akron, Ohio, so he is well aware of who the victim is. Reporters also know her identity.

She testified in open court for 51/2 hours about Mr. Tayse kidnapping her, raping her and clutching her baby as he forced her to withdraw money from cash machines. Though the woman's name was spoken repeatedly in the courtroom, neither the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette nor television stations in Pittsburgh and Cleveland disclosed it. As a matter of policy, most media companies do not identify people who have been raped.

A primary reason is that victims may not report rapes if their names are going to be published, said Susan Smith, managing editor of the Post-Gazette.

NBC in the early 1990s broke from this standard media practice, identifying the women who accused Mike Tyson and William Kennedy Smith of rape. A jury in Indiana convicted Mr. Tyson. Jurors in Florida found Mr. Smith not guilty.

But a network such as NBC might report on only one or two rape cases in a decade. Newspapers covering metropolitan areas could deal with a dozen rape stories in a month, so few have chosen to name the victims.

William Pietragallo II, attorney for the victim in the Waterworks case, said she feared her name becoming public before Mr. Tayse's trial. Now, he said, Gumberg may be trying to intimidate her into dropping her lawsuit.

"It seems to me the only reason someone would want to publish her name is to inhibit her from going forward," Mr. Pietragallo said.

Gumberg's lawyer said in his court filings that state law and trial procedures require precise identifications of those who file lawsuits.

Advocates for rape victims disagree. They say she should be able to sue the mall without her name being divulged publicly.

"Because we live in a society that still stigmatizes rape victims, we would support her right to go through any judicial process anonymously," said Julie Evans, director of education at Pittsburgh Action Against Rape.

Other women take the opposite stand, saying the stigma of rape is being perpetuated by those who want to cloak victims in secrecy. One of them is Irene Nolan, former managing editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal.

"Rape is the only crime where the victim is not named in newspaper stories," Ms. Nolan said. "The stigma is never going away as long as we treat rape victims separately and apart from all other crime victims."

In Louisville, she wanted to identify rape victims in notable Kentucky cases. She said women on her staff were more receptive to the idea than men, but she left the paper in 1991, before she could implement the change.

Ms. Nolan said she considered it unfair for a rape victim or any other litigant to conduct a lawsuit under the shield of anonymity.

She said she was still bothered because the nation's landmark abortion case of 1973 featured an anonymous plaintiff -- Jane Roe. Years later, "Roe" identified herself as Norma McCorvey, of Dallas.

Judges at all levels sometimes are asked to grant anonymity to participants in lawsuits. Usually, these people argue they are vulnerable in some way. In a highly publicized case last year, a federal judge in northeastern Pennsylvania even allowed admitted lawbreakers to anonymously sue a city government.

U.S. District Judge James Munley, of Scranton, permitted four illegal immigrants to file suit against the city of Hazleton without their names being made public. Hazleton's mayor had created ordinances aimed at evicting illegal immigrants.

Judge Munley said the issue was so highly charged that the safety of the illegal immigrants was in question. Given the climate, he kept their names secret.

Even if the Superior Court rules that the Waterworks rape victim must be identified in court records, the Post-Gazette will not publish her name, Ms. Smith said.

"We do occasional reviews of our policy on this issue, but continue to believe that more harm than good would come from routinely naming rape victims. It's a violent crime of a very personal nature and that puts its victims in a class by themselves," she said.

But if Gumberg prevails at the hearing, the rape victim's identity would be contained in a court file that is readily accessible on the Internet.

Ms. Nolan, the former Louisville editor, said she considered it paternalistic for newspapers to withhold information about rape victims from the public.

Now the editor of an Internet newspaper that serves Hatteras and Ocracoke islands in North Carolina, she said her operation does not cover crime news. "But if we had a rape case, I would publish the name," she said.

Asked if this might deter other victims from coming forward, she said it could, at least for a time. But, she said, naming names also could help prevent dishonest rape cases, such as the one that now-disbarred district attorney Mike Nifong, of Raleigh, N.C., brought against three Duke University lacrosse players.

Ms. Evans, who regularly deals with rape victims, said their circumstances demand more privacy than victims of robbery, burglary or assault.

"All crime victims feel violated, but I guess rape is the most personal type of violation there is," she said. "In the world we live in, more people are going to blame the rape victim than in any other kind of case."


Milan Simonich can be reached at msimonich@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1956.


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