1997-98 Academy Text Supplement

Chapter 22

The News Media's Coverage of Crime

Legislative Developments

In 1995, the state of Florida enacted the Crime Victims Protection Act, which delineates privacy protections, including protection from the news media, for victims of rape, sexual assault, child abuse, or "sexual performance" by a child. The Act states that: "all court records, including testimony from witnesses that reveal the photograph, name, or address of the victim of such alleged offenses . . . may not be made public if, upon a showing to the trial court with jurisdiction over the alleged offense, the state or the victim demonstrates that:

The Crime Victims Protection Act also allows for a pseudonym to be used instead of the victims name. Victims who choose to speak to the media are able to waive the protection afforded under this law. While the Act does not prohibit the publication or broadcast of the substance of trial testimony, it does stipulate that "the publication or broadcast may not include an identifying photograph, an identifiable voice, or the name and address of the victim, unless the victim has consented in writing to the publication, and filed such consent with the court, or unless the court has declared such records not confidential." (Ibid.)

The statute is currently being implemented on a regular basis by some circuit court judges who have been signing privacy protection orders, according to Jay Howell, a member of the Florida

Network for Victim Services and a driving force behind the statute's enactment. An earlier Florida statute (also enacted in South Carolina and Georgia) was found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court because it made it a crime for the media to publish the name of a sexual assault crime victim, thus interfering with first amendment freedom of speech rights. However, Howell states, "for now, the Crime Victims Protection Act seems to be working in the state of Florida." He is cautiously optimistic, recognizing that in spite of the in-depth constitutional law related-research that was undertaken prior to the law's passage, constitutional challenges will likely occur in the future. (Interview with Jay Howell, June 1, 1997, Jacksonville Beach, FL.)

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