The Shawn Hornbeck - Ben Ownby story is a tragic reflection of today's world.
The story also raised a journalistic issue which usually is not even debatable. News organizations have a standard "policy" to never run the name of a sexual abuse victim ... unless the victim chooses to be identifed.
News organizations have a standard "policy" to never run the name of a sexual abuse victim ... unless the victim chooses to be identifed. One other exception is if the victim is killed in addition to being sexually abused; this happens usually because the accused is charged with sex crimes in addition to murder.
In this case, the St. Louis County Prosecutor stuck by its policy of not naming the boys as sexual abuse victims ... but did use their initials in criminal charges.
So, why did News 4 and most news organizations clearly identify Shawn and Ben?
First, naming the boys is not something we take lightly. Both have already been traumatized and victimized. Unfortunately, in this case, there were extenuating circumstances.
For 4 1/2 years since Shawn had been kidnapped ... there had been numerous stories about the search for him ... his family struggling to hold on to hope ... various updates on the story. Then, the miracle, that most thought would never happen: ... Shawn is found. At the same time, Ben ... kidnapped just days before ... is also found.
All of us shared in the joy that the boys were alive. Still, even though physically free ... everyone knew that Shawn and Ben are shackled by crimes that will be with them for the rest of their lives.
There was no doubt that the crimes included horrific sexual abuses, but in the beginning, no one really wanted to discuss those horrors. They were just not mentioned ... but, when prosecutors issued charges against Michael Devlin ... the abuses had to be specified.
When those sexual abuse charges became official ... there was no way to suddenly not identify Shawn and Ben. One local news operation did choose to start dropping their names, but while the operation might have had good intentions ... it's naive to think anyone doesn't make the connection.
Imagine taking a pillow case of feathers .. tossing them in the center of downtown St. Louis and coming back the next day to collect them. You will never find all of them. So once Shawn and Ben had been named as kidnap victims of Michael Devlin ... and then he's charged with sexually abusing his victims ... there was no possible way to ignore the facts.
Shawn's parents admitted in interviews that as painful as the crimes are ... they knew at sometime ... they had to become public. They are just thankful that Shawn and Ben did not have to go on a witness stand and be questioned directly about such abuse.
It will continue to be our basic policy and even desire ... to not name sex abuse victims.
If only we would never have such crimes in the future.
WISE MEN TALK BECAUSE THEY HAVE
SOMETHING TO SAY ... FOOLS, BECAUSE
THEY HAVE TO SAY SOMETHING.
Plato's quote is a guide for these blogs. I leave it to the reader to decide which applies.