Opinion: Lust for blood

POSTED: 06/18/14 11:55 PM

The sexual abuse case involving a local sports coach has once again brought out the worst in those who operate so-called gossip web sites. Without thinking – a capability that is apparently beyond their grasp – the melee writers have published the full name of the suspect. In our book, that is thoughtless, tasteless and wrong.

Let’s be clear, we have no sympathy for people who abuse children. But in sexual abuse cases there are several aspects to consider, most importantly the identity of the young victims. While there will obviously be a few people who know them, this is not something to share with a larger audience. The abuse in itself is bad enough and there is no need to expose the names of these children, or to publish information that could reveal their identity to readers that are able to connect the dots.

It is common knowledge that young victims of sexual abuse are traumatized by (unjustified) feelings of guilt, even though they have done nothing wrong. All these victims want is to disappear into anonymity. As far as this newspaper is concerned, they are entitled to that.

Then there are the suspects of sexual abuse. Once someone is arrested on suspicions of such abuse that is all he – or she – is: a suspect. Given the sensitivity of these crimes, suspects are also entitled to the protection of their identity. They are innocent until proven guilty in court.

In sexual abuse cases this is for a good reason: it is difficult to prove these crimes, certainly if they hinge exclusively on complaints by victims. Without supporting evidence, a court will not be able to return a guilty verdict. In such cases the drama is complete: suspects walk, but under a cloud of suspicion that will haunt him or her forever, and real victims are left out in the cold frustrated, thinking that the court did not believe their complaint.

The policy of this newspaper is to protect the identities of sexual abuse suspects (and of suspects in general, unless they are public figures) until there is a court verdict. If the court finds the suspect guilty, we publish his or her full name – but not always. If publishing the name of the suspect in a sex-crime reveals the identity of the victim or victims we do not publish full names, and in most cases not even initials.

All this is lost on mindless bloggers who happily join witch-hunts of the type the Dutch newspaper the Telegraaf masters like no one else. Again, this is thoughtless, tasteless and wrong. On the other hand, there is no law forbidding people – including bloggers – to show the world how thoughtless, tasteless, and wrong they are at times.

The Telegraaf presented a perfect example of this sick mentality yesterday by publishing a picture on its front page of Volkert van der Graaf, the animal rights activist who assassinated politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002.

Van der Graaf (in Dutch media faithfully identified as Van der G.) served 12 of his 18 years prison sentence and he was recently conditionally released.

The Telegraaf more or less predicted that Van der Graaf is now a marked man and that sooner or later something bad is bound to happen to him. So to live up to its own predictions, the newspaper keeps hunting the man. First it was about where the Fortuyn-killer was going to live (Apeldoorn), then it set a paparazzi on his trail to score a ‘scoop’ with the first picture of him as a free man.

On Monday paparazzo Ferry de Kok hit pay dirt, after a tip that Van der Graaf would pay a visit to his attorney in Amsterdam. The Telegraaf splashed one photo across its front page, as if it had just caught a war criminal in the act of enjoying his unjustified freedom.

Even the headline suggested that Van der Graaf had been in hiding: Volkert duikt op (Volkert turns up), whereas in fact nobody would ever have noticed if the newspaper had not put one of its bloodhounds on his trail.

Decent Dutch national newspapers – like NRC and the Volkskrant – condemned the pictures. They published a story about it, but illustrated the text with a picture of a Fortuyn-demonstration.

There is no doubt that Van der Graaf is a bad – or at best, a slightly deranged – hat. But the man served his sentence and just like any other convict, he was entitled to conditional early release after serving two-third of his sentence.

De Telegraaf has different ideas: the man who killed rightwing politician Pim Fortuyn must fear that he will remain like forever in its crosshairs. That is sick, but few people in the Netherlands are surprised about the antics of that newspaper.

The gossip website that adorns St. Maarten belongs in the same category as the Telegraaf – anything to satisfy the lust for blood of its misguided readers.

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