CommonWealth urged to rethink use of name
By Janet W. Wohlberg
I am writing in response to a recent CommonWealth story about the sexual and emotional abuse of a patient by a renowned Boston-area psychoanalyst. In the story, the name of the victim is used. I strongly hope that in what I have written below you will find compelling reasons to rethink your apparent policy of using the names of victims of sexual abuse, whether by therapists or other perpetrators, without the consent or prior knowledge of the victims.
In a more perfect world, i.e., a world in which victims of sexual aggression and manipulation are not blamed for what befalls them; a world in which self-blame, shame, and guilt are not factors that complicate and multiply the distress of victims; and a world in which the Internet is not used to spread dark secrets about individuals without regard to the damage done to them, victims of rape, incest, and other forms of sexual abuse would perhaps feel freer to come forward to find help for themselves and for the protection of others.
While I welcome open discussion and media exposure of the problem of sexual abuse by psychotherapists, using a victim’s name as you have subjects that victim to being marginalized and shunned and serves as a warning to other victims that they had best keep quiet or risk harsh public judgment and humiliation. Using the names of victims of any kind of sexual aggression and manipulation does no public service and serves no purpose other than to re-traumatize the already brutally traumatized.
Like victims of rape and incest, victims of sexual abuse by psychotherapists, already stigmatized by many for merely being in psychotherapy, are isolated and fearful of exposure. They believe that they are the exception and that the problem is theirs alone. To the contrary, in 1997 Harvard biostatistician Marcello Pagano opined that the problem is not only prevalent but also more under-reported than rape.
Each year, there are in excess of 40,000 discrete visitors to our relatively small and hard-to-find website, therapyabuse.org. The more prominent site, advocateweb.org, reported yearly visitor rates in the millions before it essentially imploded, overwhelmed by the levels of demand coupled with lack of funds and staffing. This is not a small problem.
Beginning in 1983, legislators in several states undertook an examination of sexual abuse by psychotherapists to determine whether criminal sanctions were warranted. The first state to enact legislation criminalizing psychotherapist-patient sexual exploitation was Wisconsin. The first felony statute took effect in Minnesota, followed by Wisconsin, North Dakota, Colorado, California, and Maine. Florida, Georgia, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Dakota, New Mexico, Connecticut, Arizona, and Texas passed similar legislation. Now more than half of our states equate therapist-patient sex with rape and make it a crime punishable with a prison sentence.
Newspapers and journals normally do not use the names of rape victims. Further, the use of names in the “age of the Internet” results in information that lasts endlessly into the future as any information published becomes permanently and easily accessible. Every time someone “Googles” a victim’s name, the intimate details of their personal traumas are re-exposed in a way that is out of their control, causing them to be re-victimized.
In concert with the official and unofficial policies of most major newspapers and other print and responsible internet publications, I urge you, nay, plead with you to change your editorial policy and no longer publish victims’ names in therapist-patient, rape, incest, and other sexual abuse cases.
Though you cannot reverse the unimaginable damage you have likely caused the victim named in your story, I would ask you, for reasons both ethical and humane, to remove her name and her husband’s name from your on-line publication and to reach out to other periodicals that have published this story to do so as well.
Janet W. Wohlberg is cofounder of Tell, The Therapy Exploitation Link Line, in Williamstown.
Publishing name serves no newsworthy purpose
By Wanda S. Needleman
I am writing to you in response to your article “Sex with patient caused no harm, doctor says” by Colman M. Herman published Jan 26, 2012 in CommonWealth.
In this article you have unfortunately chosen to publish the name of the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her psychoanalyst. Publishing her name serves no newsworthy purpose. It only serves to harm not only her and her family, but to also terrify other victims of such abuse.
The publishing of names of victims of rape or victims of sexual abuse within fiduciary relationships makes it even harder for such victims to come forward and attempt to find some restitution or some semblance of justice.
Please do whatever you are able to do to apologize to this victim. Please remove her name and her husband’s name from this online article. For that matter, I would also wish that you would remove the name of Jane Kite. Please also revisit your editorial policies in these matters and please adopt the policy of never naming victims of such abuse unless they have given permission to have their name used!
Wanda S. Needleman is a psychoanalyst and a member of Tell, the Therapy Exploitation Link Line.
Response from CommonWealth editor Bruce MohlBoth Janet W. Wohlberg and Wanda S. Needleman argue that it is wrong to print the name of a victim of sexual abuse. But the plaintiff in this case is not suing Dr. Henry Smith for sexual abuse; she is suing him for negligence, infliction of emotional stress, and unfair and deceptive practices under the state’s Consumer Protection Act.
The story raises important issues about Massachusetts law. Wohlberg notes that many states have criminalized sex between a therapist and a patient, but Massachusetts is not one of them. We published the story in part to bring this issue to light. We thought long and hard about whether to use the name of the woman suing Dr. Smith, but in the end concluded that use of her name was appropriate.