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Will this new bill make rape an invisible crime?

Can you imagine not knowing if a rapist is targeting your neighborhood?

Usually, law enforcement and the media work together to alert the public of these types of crimes, but a new proposed law in Tennessee would make all details of a sexual assault secret unless they came out during a trial.

The bill was filed by Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, R-Knoxville, who said it would shield the identity and personal information of rape victims.

But, as written, critics say the bill would shield information from the public and interfere with a defendant’s right to a fair trial.

The Tennessean also thinks the law might be in response to a lawsuit filed against the Nashville Police Department and Vanderbilt University by several media organizations across the state for refusing to release records in a case where four former football players were charged with brutally raping a female student while she was unconscious.

In a recent op-ed, The Tennessean points out that it’s strange the bill was filed a few days after the lawsuit.

“Metro Law Director Saul Soloman said the bill is not about the lawsuit. He said discussions about it have bounced around for two years. But unless you believe in the Tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny, it’s too big a stretch to say it was merely coincident that the bill was filed days after the lawsuit was filed.”

The column also details how the public’s knowledge of the “wooded rapist” led communities to band together and alert neighbors of any suspicious activity.

“Police put out a description of him, and details. Neighbors stayed in touch with neighbors to alert them of any reports of burglars. People trimmed back their bushes, bought dogs and kept started keeping outdoor lights on at night. Others put in alarm systems. Women took self-defense classes, offered by the police.”

The “wooded rapist” terrorized women for 14 years in Williamson, Davidson and Wilson counties until he was eventually caught and convicted. And even though it took more than a decade to catch him, knowledge was power for these communities, these women. It helped protect them and other potential victims.

Another important question is how will this affect our society’s perception of rape and sexual assault? Rape and sexual assault are already the most under-reported crimes in the world, according to a panel study by the National Research Council.

If we’re not talking about it or hearing about it on the news, does that mean it’s not happening?


It just means more of these crimes are being under-reported and undiscovered.

“We would not want rape to be an invisible crime,” Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, told The Tennessean.

What do you think of the bill? Do you think it will deter rape victims from coming forward or do you think they’ll feel more protected?

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Tiffany Gibson

Tiffany Gibson has worked for The Oklahoman since August 2011 and is a member of the enterprise team and digital desk. In addition to writing and web editing, she creates interactive features for and assists with data visualization and... Read more ›