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William Kennedy Smith Case: All the Names If You Please

Updated on December 6, 2017
William F. Torpey profile image

Graduated NYU in 1964. Worked in NYC for 2 years in public relations then as reporter and editor before retiring from The Hour newspaper.

Acquitted in 1991 Rape Trial

William Kennedy Smith
William Kennedy Smith

Special Camera Measures Injuries

Diane Zalecki of Royal Oak's nurse-examiner program uses a special camera to accurately measure injuries of an assault victim. (HUGH GRANNUM/Detroit Free Press)
Diane Zalecki of Royal Oak's nurse-examiner program uses a special camera to accurately measure injuries of an assault victim. (HUGH GRANNUM/Detroit Free Press)

"Hello. My name's Patricia Bowman. I'm the one who accused William Kennedy Smith of rape."

Now it can be told!

Miss Bowman, her name and face shrouded by media throughout the long Palm Beach, Fla., trial, no longer eschews publicity. By agreeing to appear on national television, Miss Bowman likely will become a household name -- and face.

Withholding the names of women who make accusations of rape became a widely discussed issue when the Smith case surfaced. Most electronic and print media declared they would protect the accuser by not revealing her name and by not showing her face. The trial, and events connected with it, drew unbridled media attention.

Law Declared Unconstitutional

The debate over the wisdom, or right, of the media to identify one who makes an accusation of rape began even before the case went to court. When a Florida newspaper, The Globe of Boca Raton, printed Patricia Bowman's name the state attorney of Palm Beach charged the newspaper with violation of a 1911 state law by revealing her name; a judge then ruled the law unconstitutional. Despite anonymity elsewhere in the nation, and throughout the world, Miss Bowman's identity had been common knowledge in Florida throughout the trial.

Bad Journalism

Those who believe it best to protect the identity of women who make accusations of rape, presumably to help alleviate the pain that publicity would bring as well as to encourage others to report rape, are wrong. Withholding the names of such accusers is both bad journalism and a threat to the rights of everyone, not to mention unfair to the accused.

Few people involved in criminal cases would allow use of their names if the decision were up to them. Newspapers frequently receive pleas from those accused of shoplifting, prostitution (or johns), possession of drugs, et al, to please not use their names. The paper is often told: "I'll lose my job." "If my aged mother finds out she'll have a heart attack."

Press Bows Under Pressure

Newspapers also bow to pressure not to reveal the addresses of people who are victims of burglaries.

It is unquestionably difficult for a woman to publicly make an accusation of rape with its attendant trial, noted for embarrassing and frequently degrading testimony and cross-examination.

Use of Names Protects Public

The simple truth of the matter is that those accused of a crime, or the victims of burglaries, are protected by using their names and by reporting the details of their arrest or of the burglary. The same is true of accusers; they are protected by using their names, not by withholding their identities.

In the Smith case, perhaps it is clear now to Miss Bowman that it would have been better if her name and face were not cloaked in anonymity. While it was the media who made the decision to keep her identity secret, not Miss Bowman, one word from her could have changed that.

Media who opt for keeping secret the addresses of people visited by burglars, of johns who are arrested, or of women who publicly accuse men of rape, are misguided. Their motives are good, but their judgment is poor.

Such media should take counsel from their own efforts to maintain their constitutional freedom of the press and the hard-fought freedom of information they demand from others.

Media Puts Spotlight on Danger

Communities in this country are alerted to crime by newspapers and the electronic media. It is through these media that citizens become aware of danger, the first step necessary to take action to protect the community.

If citizens are not aware that burglars find their neighborhood fair game, or if police can make arrests with impunity because crimes are not reported, then citizens face an insidious danger; they are not being protected.

As one rights group reportedly pointed out recently, the stigma attached to rape victims will never disappear as long as the crime of rape is treated differently from other crimes.

I wrote this column as an "Editor's Notebook" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on Dec. 21, 1991. I now write my views on a wide variety of topics on HubPages.

Should the Names of Alleged Rape Victims Be Withheld By the Press?

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Protecting Women: Improving Rape Reporting


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    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 6 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Thank you for commenting, LiamBean. I agree, of course, that failure to name all parties to any lawsuit creates great potential for injustice. I've just added a link to a story this week in Norwalk CT where a woman is accused of falsely reporting a rape. It can, and does, happen. Everyone is better off when the facts are on the table.

    • LiamBean profile image

      LiamBean 6 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

      Without proper and complete disclosure there is a high potential for injustice. All parties in any action should be publicly named.

      With one party named and the other unnamed there is a potential, right from the start, for any trial to be tainted and any decision to be biased.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 7 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Thank you for your comment, UConnKid. I appreciate your strong feelings about the plight of women, and I am, of course, sympathetic to the fear they face. This opinion piece, however, addresses the law in the United States, not the vulnerability of women or their personal feelings. The piece was written as a column in a newspaper; it was not intended to be an academic study with citations. The feelings of women regarding their desire not to be named -- or to be named -- is not a consideration regarding the law. It's not an issue that can be resolved by a majority vote of women. Rather, women's safety is better served when the public is fully informed of the facts in rape cases.

    • profile image

      UConnKid 7 years ago

      This article is extremely poorly written for anything other than a personal opinion piece. Mr Torpey repeatedly states his view without citing any studies, objective data, or even any anecdotal situation where even one woman who was raped stated that she wished the press had printed her name and why she felt that way. My Torpey goes so far as to relate not publishing the names of rape *victims* with pleas for anonymity by those *accused* of criminal activity, a Freudian slip that suggests he too believes that women who are raped are the perpetrators. He states (in the comments) that "many women's organizations [believe]... that the names of rape victims should be public information" without naming even one of these organizations. Here's a suggestion Mr Torpey: Until you grow a vagina and know what it feels like to be seen as an object by men and feel totally vulnerable just walking to your car at night, let alone the shame that overwhelms you when someone abuses you sexually, then write about things you do understand. You're like a little kid who whines because the police won't let you gape at an accident victim to satisfy your morbid curiousity.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      It certainly is a very controversial issue, LondonGirl. But as a longtime journalist I believe, along with many women's organizations and attorneys, that the names of rape victims should be public information. Keeping the names secret merely perpetuates the stigma that rape victims continue to face. It no doubt is traumatic for the victim, but it will serve women better in the end.

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

      Here in England & Wales, rape and sexual assault complaints may not be named by the press, unless they choose to "out" themselves.