On Rape — and the Power of Speaking Out

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In 1989, as editor of the Des Moines Register, I took a call from an Iowan named Nancy Ziegenmeyer. Speaking tearfully, she asked me  if the paper would be willing to tell the story of her rape — using her name, using photographs of her. Thus began a remarkable journey that — many months on — would help bring rape out of the dark corners to which it had long been assigned and into the nation’s consciousness.

All these years later, this remains a topic of consequence, and I am still asked about it regularly. That’s why I have gathered here some of the pieces that I have authored or edited it over the years, along with some supporting material. I will add to it over the years as I unearth old pieces and contribute to new ones:

“Why Hide Rapes?” My op-ed in the New York Times, also printed in the Des Moines Register, where Ziegenmeyer’s husband read my piece.  He showed it to Nancy, who called me.

It Couldn’t Happen to Me: One Woman’s Story” a pdf of the tab made of the series. Beautifully written by reporter Jane Schorer, with exceptional photography by David Peterson, and with supportive editorial-page pieces, the series brought the Register the Pulitzer Gold Medal for Public Service in 1991.

A more readable text of the series.

“A Name, a Face and a Rape: Iowa Victim Tells Her Story” Sunday New York Times piece that ran following the series.  NYT reviews of the book and movie that were later made.

Among the additional pieces I have written on the topic are:

In 2003, in a blog I was then writing for Poynter, I made this effort to plumb the debate about naming names “Unraveling Rape Coverage”

Name the Accuser and the Accused” also published in 2003 in my Poynter blog, included this quote: “Certainly, in the past dozen years, we have made progress in reporting on, and understanding, the crime of rape. I am certain that this is in large part due to the courage of women who were willing to come forward and tell their stories. I also wonder if the unfairness of naming the accused and not the accuser has given platform to those who make outsized claims about the number of false charges of rape. And I wonder if shielding the accuser does not inflame still further the cruel search for dirt about her.”

When Poynter declined to publish the accuser’s name, as I intended to do, I ended the blog. Here is a report on that development.

“Moving Beyond Naming Names” an op-ed in the Washington Post in 2004 in response to the Kobe Bryant case

“Naming the Accuser,” a PBS NewsHour discussion, also in 2004, in which I participated in the wake of the Bryant case

A summation of a speech I gave at Iowa State University in 2004

A 2011 piece in the Washington Post on my views during the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case

An interesting look at more recent developments on BuzzFeed: “Why the Rape Girls are Speaking Out”

My response to the 2014 Rolling Stone U. Va. controversy “Rape and Anonymity: A fateful pairing”

An interview with Brian Stelter in connection with the U. VA. controversy








Old media bio, new media gusto!