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EDITORIAL: In defence of publication bans

Many followers of the news in this region expressed outrage and disgust last week at revelations from a trial in provincial court in Harbour Grace, in which a local woman is accused of horrendous crimes associated with the alleged abuse of her children.

Terry Roberts is the regional editor for The Compass, The Aurora and The Labradorian newspapers

Details of the abuse came out during final arguments in the case, and to say they were shocking would be an understatement. Some observers described it as the worst case of child abuse in recent memory in this province.

Online news sites and social media came alive with comments, with many expressing sympathy for the children, and how the abuse would scar their lives. And the amount of venom directed at the parents was chilling, though not entirely surprising. Many called for swift and harsh - in some cases barbaric - justice.

There was also plenty of questions and criticism about a court order preventing the media from revealing the identity of the accused, or any information that may lead to her identity. As such, we did not publish the hometown, age of the accused or the number of children involved.

Many felt this unfairly sheltered the mother from public scrutiny, while her children were afforded no such protection during their many years of alleged maltreatment.

Fact is, the public reaction to this case is exactly the reason publication bans were introduced in the first place; not to protect the accused, but the victims of crime, in this case young children.

Under the Criminal Code, courts have a duty to order a publication ban to protect the identity of all victims of sexual offences and witnesses of sexual offences who are less than 18 year-of-age. In cases such as this, the public's right to know is, and rightfully so, overshadowed by the rights of the victims.

If critics of such bans were truly sympathetic to the atrocities endured by these young victims, they would understand the rationale for these publication bans. It's bad enough these young children have to grow up living with such torment and betrayal. Why should their shame be intensified by news headlines detailing their monstrous treatment.

It's a sad fact that most sexual assaults are not reported to authorities, largely because the victim does not want anyone to know. How bad would the situation be if these young victims thought their names and the names of their assailants - in many cases a family member - would be publicized in newspapers, broadcast on radio and television stations, or online news sites?

It's a scary thought.

— Terry Roberts is the regional editor for The Compass, The Aurora and The Labradorian community newspapers

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