Thursday, January 6, 2011

News media won't name accuser in civil suit against baseball player, even though police won't file criminal charges due to inconsistent evidence

The Johan Santana case raises, once again, very troubling questions about the way rape claims are reported in this country.

New York Mets pitcher Johan Santana was sued by a woman named Deanna Williams who claims Santana sexually assaulted her in 2009 on a south Fort Myers golf course. Santana supposedly “tore off her clothes” and “assaulted her even though she begged and pleaded with him to stop.” Williams also claims that Santana impregnated her but that she subsequently had a miscarriage. 

Santana claims the sex was consensual, and he's filed a counterclaim accusing Williams of defamation and malicious prosecution.  The court papers he filed use terms such as "extortion," "blackmail" and "sham rape claim."

Here is Williams' amended complaint, and here is the court docket, which shows the case is in the discovery phase.

Santana, 31, states the woman searched terms such as "false rape," "evidence preservation" and "Johan Santana" on her home computers, which she refused to let Lee County sheriff's detectives inspect. Detectives later obtained a search warrant to inspect the computers.

Note that if Ms. Williams Googled "false rape," the very first entry she would have found is this site. 

There is only the civil action pending. Neither party will face criminal sanctions as a result of the disposition of this case. There are no criminal charges pending.  The police dropped their investigation into the alleged sexual assault for “lack of evidence.” They said that “the alleged victim’s statement is not consistent with other witnesses.”

While the criminal investigation was ongoing, Santana claims that Williams demanded substantial sums of money. "She threatened to file a civil lawsuit which would expose Santana to public scandal and ridicule unless Santana paid (the woman)," the counter lawsuit states. "(The woman) knew the claims she made to the Lee County Sheriff's Office were false and she maliciously misrepresented to the police that she had not consented to have sex with Santana. (Her) sole purpose in making up these allegations was to extort Santana to pay (her) substantial sums of money to avoid having her contrived allegations made public."

Last November Lee Circuit Judge Michael McHugh ruled that Williams, who initially filed the lawsuit as "Jane Doe," would have to attach her actual name to the lawsuit in order to continue the court action.

Even though there won't be any criminal charges, and even thought the judge has ordered that Williams' name be publicly identified in court records as part of the case, news outlets still are not naming her "because she might be the victim of a sex crime."  The news media has even redacted all identifying information about Williams from the police report reproduced in connection with its report of the story. See here

Did you get that? In a classic "he said/she said" civil lawsuit, she is granted anonymity by the news media. His reputation is blackened, possibly beyond repair.

The news media's insistence on shielding the identities of sex accusers in even civil matters is beyond troubling. Unlike a criminal case, a civil dispute is a private one. Ms. Williams' claim, even if true, will not keep a rapist off the streets or protect other women from him. It will do nothing more than line Ms. Williams' pockets with a lot of money.  Ms. Williams has chosen to seek money from Mr. Santanta by using a publicly funded institution, as is her right. The judge was perfectly correct in holding that she couldn't pursue this action as "Jane Doe."

Yet, the news media steadfastly refuses to report on a matter that is news, by any measure, and that is a matter of public record. Why should a possible false rape accuser be afforded an advantage in a private dispute over the man who could very well be the real victim here?

But don't listen to me. Naomi Wolf, feminist high priestess, opposes anonymity for even criminal matters: "Feminists have long argued that rape must be treated like any other crime. But in no other crime are accusers kept behind a wall of anonymity. Treating rape so differently serves only to maintain its mischaracterization as a 'different' kind of crime, loaded with cultural baggage and projections. . . . . Though children’s identities should, of course, be shielded in sex-crime allegations, women are not children. If one makes a serious criminal accusation, one must wish to be treated – and one must treat oneself – as a moral adult." 

Prof. Alan Dershowitz, the sage of Harvard Law School, once said this: "People who have gone to the police and publicly invoked the criminal process and accused somebody of a serious crime such as rape must be identified. In this country there is no such thing and should not be such a thing as anonymous accusation. If your name is in court it is a logical extension that it should be printed in the media. How can you publish the name of the presumptively innocent accused but not the name of the accuser?"

Ms. Wolf and Prof. Dershowitz were criticizing anonymity in the context of a criminal case. The case to scrap anonymity is all the more compelling the further one moves away from the criminal arena. There is no reasoned justification for it where the accuser is seeking lucre as her justice in a private civil action.

And, I'd add this: I am not even sure that the news media consistently applies its policy of shielding the identities of sex offense accusers when the genders are switched. See here.