Image: Jerry Sandusky
Gene J. Puskar  /  AP
Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky is charged with 52 counts of child sexual abuse involving 10 boys.
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updated 6/7/2012 5:21:34 PM ET 2012-06-07T21:21:34

The young men who accuse former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky of molesting them have been allowed to remain anonymous through months of intense news coverage and water-cooler conversation about the scandal.

That's about to change.

When they take the witness stand in a packed Pennsylvania courtroom as early as next week, the alleged victims will be forced to state their names for the record — traumatizing them all over again, their lawyers and victims' advocates argue, especially given the very real possibility their identities will become common knowledge via social media and the wider Internet.

Most traditional media organizations, including The Associated Press, have longstanding policies against using the names of alleged victims of sexual assault, viewing the crime as so intensely personal and the potential effect of public disclosure so traumatic for the accuser that withholding the identity outweighs the public's right to know.

But in this anything-goes age of social media and citizen journalists, when anyone with a smartphone can tweet or blog, old media standards may no longer make much difference.

Anyone lucky enough to grab one of the 85 courtroom seats reserved for the public could sit in for the day, jot down some of the accusers' names, leave and disseminate them to the world.

"Most of us want to have some control over who we share intimate details of our lives with," said Karen Baker, director of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. "To have that out there on the Internet, you've totally lost control, and it's a scary thing."

Sandusky, 68, faces 52 counts accusing him of sexually abusing 10 boys over a span of 15 years. Prosecutors say the retired coach befriended boys he met through The Second Mile, the charity he founded for youngsters in 1977, then attacked them, in some cases in his home or inside university athletic facilities. He has denied the allegations.

All 12 jurors, alternates chosen in Sandusky's trial

Most of the accusers are now in their 20s. Up to now, they have been identified in court papers only as "Victim 1," "Victim 2" and so on.

Victims prefer using fake names
Five of the eight alleged victims who could be called to the stand asked Judge John Cleland for permission to testify under pseudonyms, saying through their lawyers that exposing their names would subject them to shame, ridicule and harassment.

An attorney for the accuser known as Victim 4 submitted an affidavit from his psychologist that said public disclosure could trigger symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and interfere with the young man's treatment and recovery.

And a coalition of advocacy groups argued that removing the cloak of anonymity would have a chilling effect on victims' willingness to report abuse. Most childhood sexual abuse already goes unreported because young victims fear they will be ridiculed or disbelieved, the groups noted in a brief submitted to the judge.

But the judge said there is no authority in Pennsylvania law to allow the alleged victims to remain anonymous. While state law shields the identities of child victims of sexual assault, it affords no explicit protection to adult accusers even if the abuse took place when they were children.

Cleland also said there is a public policy consideration at stake.

"Courts are not customarily in the business of withholding information," he wrote. "Secrecy is thought to be inconsistent with the openness required to assure the public that the law is being administered fairly and applied faithfully." With rare exception, Cleland said, all citizens have a duty to testify publicly, "no matter how personally unpleasant."

Advocates urge respect for privacy
In the wake of that ruling, victims' organizations pleaded with the public and the media Thursday to exercise restraint.

"Victims everywhere should know that their privacy will be respected when they come forward to reveal intimate details of sexual abuse. They participate in the criminal justice process in an effort to do the right thing and testify about their experiences; they should not have to worry about being publicly targeted when doing so," said Baker's group and others said in a statement.

Video: Eight jurors in Sandusky trial have ties to Penn State (on this page)

John Giugliano, a clinical social worker and associate professor at Widener University, said victims of childhood sexual abuse can suffer anew when their names are publicized because the most humiliating episode of their lives is suddenly open to public inspection and judgment. Common symptoms of abuse — depression, anxiety, substance abuse, difficulty connecting with others — can flare up or become more severe, he said.

Beth Docherty, who was 15 when her music teacher raped her, said she was grateful her name wasn't released. Even with the court's protection, though, a newspaper account contained just enough detail about her identity — that she played flute — that it became known within her school. She said the teacher's supporters sent her hate mail and broke her windows.

Docherty, now 43 and president of the board of Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, sees parallels with the Sandusky case. Just as she was blamed for reporting her attacker, Docherty said, some Penn State fans have blamed the accusers for football coach Joe Paterno's firing last fall, just months before his death from cancer.

"You've gone through this horrible thing, and you have people who don't know you blaming you, saying you caused this icon to be brought down. It stays with you. It affects you for a long time," she said. "Having that identity kept from the public is a little bit of a comfort, so I feel for them. It's going to be really traumatic, and I give them a lot of credit to still go through with it and not crush and crumble under all the pressure."

If the victims' names do become public knowledge during trial, it probably won't be the result of reporting by the traditional media.

"We have a firm and longstanding policy not to publish the names of victims of sexual crimes without their consent," Lawrence Beaupre, executive editor of Times-Shamrock Communications, a media conglomerate that publishes The Times-Tribune in Scranton and several other newspapers and has sent a reporter to the trial.

More than 80 media outlets have been credentialed to cover the trial, from broadcast networks and major newspapers to Internet portals, independent journalists and tiny online news operations, some of which told AP that they, too, plan to withhold the accusers' names.

The media has to be cautious
At the same time, the issue of whether to shield victims of sex crimes from exposure has launched countless newsroom arguments. Is it fair to the alleged perpetrators to allow accusers to remain anonymous, especially in cases where the charge has turned out to be false? Is such a policy inadvertently perpetuating the notion that victims of sexual abuse have something to be ashamed about?

The Society of Professional Journalists' code of ethics does not include a blanket prohibition on using the names of sexual abuse victims; it merely advises news organizations to "be cautious" about identifying them.

Kevin Z. Smith, SPJ's past president and chairman of its ethics committee, said it is his personal belief that media organizations should reconsider their stand against naming.

"We shouldn't stigmatize victims of sexual assault," he said. "I don't think as a society we do ourselves a favor by ostracizing these people, and I don't think the press does a helpful job by perpetuating that by saying, 'We are going to protect you.'"

Even Giugliano, the social worker, said there can be a benefit to testifying in open court. Some victims find it liberating to confront their abuser, she said.

"There can be a very positive effect through all of this, a release of shame, having their voice heard and their day in court, a feeling of being vindicated," Giugliano said. "Those things can have a very positive, empowering effect."

But he said that decision should be left to the individual and his therapist.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Eight jurors in Sandusky trial have ties to Penn State

  1. Closed captioning of: Eight jurors in Sandusky trial have ties to Penn State

    >>> right now just four days from the opening statements in the jerry sandusky sexual abuse trial. at least eight of the panelists have links to the university. some of them actually showing up in court wearing clothing with penn state logos. joining me live analyst michael izakoff and michael mccann . good to have you here. michael , i want to start with you as we talk about the situation there with the jurors. eight jurors with ties to penn state . some observers say this was impossible to avoid. even sew, what does this say to people concerned about impartiality in this case, not coming in with preconceived notions about what's going on and which is going to benefit either side?

    >> well, it says the judge and lawyers --

    >> i think many were surprised that this -- michael , i want to start with you. real fast, let's have michael start real fast from the scene.

    >> two michaels. lawyers and the judge clearly decided that penn stay ties were inevitable in this community where the university looms so large. secondly, not a barrier to the evidence. you talk to lawyers following this case, they say this can cut two ways. first of all, you have a lot of people in the penn state community who are angry at jerry sandusky for besmerching the good name of the school through this scandal and joe paterno , the legendary coach who died earlier this year. on the other hand, all the defense needs is one juror who associates jerry sandusky with joe paterno , who associates jerry sandusky with the great days of the penn state football program and that may be all they need to prevent a conviction here. so, it's really a crap shoot as to how this is going to play out. i think a lot of people were surprised jury selection went so quickly and that we have so many ties to penn state in this trial.

    >> mr. mccann, four days away from opening statements . give us the insights to the key players in this trial. you say the judge, no stranger to cases involving child victims. what is his being on the bench tell you?

    >> well, thomas, he's well qualified to handle a case like this. the judge was involved as an investigator in the cash for kids scandal where a judge in pennsylvania had taken money from a private prison and sent juvenile defendants there. so, he certainly is qualified to look at cases involving child abuse . but i agree with michael 's comments, it's surprising the jury has so many persons affiliated with penn state . part relates to the fact that they're in a part of the country where penn state is the number one economic driver. it's the number one employer. is probably would have been difficult to pick a jury with no ties or a few ties to penn state .

    >> sure cast a huge shadow. observers say yesterday that sandusky looked happy as this jury was picked. he even turned to this pool and said, what did you do to deserve me? how did you get stuck with this? how did that play out?

    >> i don't know if he looked happy but he hasn't shown any sign of the stress you would imagine he would be under. he's appeared if not cocky, certainly self-confident. he's been playing an active role in jury selection . the first day at one point his lawyer wanted to strike one of the jurors, one of the potential jurors. sandusky overruled him and said, i think she could be fair. i think this is a guy who despite all the speculation about a plea and continued speculation he's not going to want to go through this, he might plea bargain , he hasn't shown any sign of that. and seems to be forging right ahead to trial, which begins on monday.

    >> michael , the juror he thought could be fair, this woman, isn't she the one that has ties to mike mcqueary 's father and the medical practice he has there?

    >> exactly. very interesting ties. her husband is in the same physician's group as the father of mike mcqueary , who is one of the key witnesses in this case. he's the one in the famous shower incident said he saw a young boy being abused by jerry sandusky and then reported it to the late joe paterno .

    >> gentlemen, thanks so much. my two michaels this morning. appreciate it.

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