EDITORIAL: Releasing ‘Rape Tapes’ is Unethical

Warren jeffs new mug shot, releasing rape tapes unethical
Warren Jeffs booking photo | Photo courtesy of Texas Department of Criminal Justice, St. George News

updated Aug. 14, 2011 5:30 p.m.

The Salt Lake Tribune recently published an article describing the difficulties the editors went through in deciding whether or not to release “sex tapes,” in which Warren Jeffs can be heard raping young girls. (Since Jeffs has been convicted of the crime and sex with anyone that young is illegal, I believe rape is the only appropriate term to be using).

From the article, I believed they were absolutely not going to release the tapes. From their Facebook posting, it sounded as if it was still up for debate.

(The Salt Lake Tribune previously released portions of the sex tapes where Jeffs is heard “prepping” the women. They have not released the portions of the women actually being raped, and this is the portion I am referring to in this editorial.)

My initial issue here lies with the judge in the actual case, as I believe he should have sealed those records. The “rape tapes” are now on the internet, and anyone sick enough to want to listen to them can find them on their own.

However, my article is addressed to the Tribune, from one publication to another, in what I believe is unethical journalism.

In my opinion, the Tribune made a huge mistake in printing the transcripts of Elizabeth Smart’s testimony. I hope they learn from that mistake and do the right thing now.

In both cases, the victim was so young that processing and understanding the rape can be even more difficult than usual.

In the Warren Jeffs’ case, the victim was raised in such a horrible environment her entire life that she will have difficulty seeing her sexuality as something she can control or something that even belongs to herself. She will most likely have post-traumatic stress disorder and may have physical damage inside her brain. Our hope is that she can, like Elizabeth Smart did, overcome such a horrific event and have a positive impact on others.

Rape victims generally have a difficult time coping with life and emotions. Their views of the world are skewed; “triggers” or events that remind her of her rape will force her to live it all over again. She may have panic attacks, nightmares, insomnia and go into depression. Most likely, her self-esteem is already completely damaged.

Her rape is a personal thing that has now been dragged out for her to keep reliving. In the case of the justice system, it is important for the judge and jury to hear the tapes to understand just how sick and twisted Jeffs is. But what does the media and the general public gain from this? One reader wrote they wanted to be sure he was really guilty. That isn’t for the general public to decide. That is why we have a jury system. Another reader cited freedom of the press. Since when did freedom of the press trump a person’s right to privacy?

In Utah, according to the Victim’s Bill of Rights, victims have the right “to be treated with dignity, respect, courtesy and sensitivity.”

Although this case happened in Texas, this is a pretty standard right for victims and I would like to know why any media outlet or journalist believes they have the right to take that away.

In Utah, the Victim’s Bill of Rights provides that “with child victims, they have the right to have the process conducted in the most effective and least traumatic, intrusive, and intimidating manner.”

Because the trial is over, does anyone believe they have the right to be intrusive in this young girl’s traumatic assault?

On a final note, I would like to remind all the journalists at the Tribune where they failed Elizabeth Smart personally by publishing the transcripts of her own legally necessary but surely difficult testimony relating the horror she experienced.  I hope that they will do the right thing now.

The Society of Professional Journalists states that journalists should:

– Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.

– Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.

– Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.

– Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.

– Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.

To the editors of The Salt Lake Tribune, we will be watching to see how you uphold the standards for ethics in journalism and whether you choose to “show good taste” in your news reporting. It is my belief, that you choosing not to release those tapes shows you have come a long way since the poor taste made in the Elizabeth Smart case.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2011, all rights reserved.

email: [email protected]
Twitter: @CallMeJen27
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  • danielle August 14, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Well said!

  • J. Robertson August 14, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    What you stated in your post, is, in my opinion, right on the mark.
    Sounds like you were brought up in a right thinking family. Thanks again

  • sara August 14, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Is this in reference to these recordings they made available on the 11th?


    You said “It is unclear what the Tribune plans to do with these tapes they have acquired. From the article, I believed they were not going to release the tapes. From their Facebook posting, it sounded as if it was still up for debate, and that they may choose to release the tapes.”

    I think they’ve reasonably explained (a few days ago now) why they released portions of the recordings. From the descriptions of the excerpts it sounds like Jeffs is the one doing the talking and they didn’t include much of all the audio they obtained. I personally do not want to listen to them but I think the Trib did the right thing by making portions of the audio available and it was obviously not a decision they came to lightly. And I would imagine the things you’re talking about here are exactly the same things they discussed when coming to this decision. They just don’t agree with you.

    • Jen Watkins August 14, 2011 at 4:24 pm

      My editorial is in response to their new article, posted yesterday and linked to in my editorial, about whether they should release the remainder of the tapes (the parts where Jeffs is raping the women).

  • Proud Texan August 14, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    If the ones in Utah would have taken care of the problem when it was up there then they wouldn’t have ever gotten to Texas to have to be prosecuted in a Texas court. Texas courts routinely release trial exhibits as they are public information after the trial is over.

  • Paul Pearce August 14, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    I agree 100% with you.

  • Jen Watkins August 14, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    I want to clarify my editorial in case it was in any way not clear: The Trib article does say they are not releasing full versions of the tapes (they did release some) out of respect for the victim The FB post and reader arguments (which they don’t control) made it seem like this could be up for debate. However, since the Elizabeth Smart transcripts were released, my editorial still stands.

  • sara August 14, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    I’m glad you included this because for me it was not clear. They did come out with their own statement explaining why they released what they did and when I saw this opinion I thought there was something new they were debating – like there was another tape that hasn’t been released.

  • Jay Beswick August 14, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    Interesting. I was the child abuse prevention rep. in Washington county reporting this in 2000 & 2001 and I was routinely ignored. I hate to agree with some here, but Utah did not do its duty!

    Exactly what most FLDS believe!

    1999 by Rulon T. Jeffs
    Volume 1, First Edition
    ebay Item number: 200641630186


    PS Any one hear the new song CHILD BRIDES?

  • tyler August 14, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    Unethical to release tapes? That’s the decision of individuals choosing to view or not. Unethical is what he did to those kids!!!!!! As if he deserved ANY respect, come on people!!!

  • tyler August 14, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    …Oh I understand unethical for the victims-overlooked that.

    • Jen Watkins August 15, 2011 at 5:42 am

      Glad you caught that. Jeffs lost his right when he committed those crime and was convicted. But the victims still have rights that cannot be overlooked.

  • tyler August 14, 2011 at 11:36 pm

    @Jen, he wasn’t raping women, he was raping CHILDREN

  • tyler August 14, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    I understand this isn’t the proper place to vent about ur weather page but i couldn’t comment on that page…i find it annoying how it’s mid August and everyday the forecast says “Hot” even when it’s only in the 90s (which is surely not hot for STG this time of year) The other day it read sunny, “Hot”, 87F. Really? lol!!

    • Jen Watkins August 15, 2011 at 5:54 am

      Thanks for pointing that out. The weather service comes out of SLC so I’m sure it’s hot to them. I’ll have the web guys look into a better weather service if we can find one.

  • tyler August 15, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Thanks for your concern Jen. So glad we have this free alternative online local news source 🙂

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