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Bowman lambastes media for invading her privacy
STANFORD -- In their race for scoops and rating points, the news media brutally and consistently violate the basic rights of rape victims to privacy and protection, and force them not to report sexual assaults to legal authorities, an alleged rape victim told a Stanford audience on April 13.
Patricia Bowman, who testified against William Kennedy Smith in the televised Palm Beach rape trial last December, talked about "Surviving the Media: A Victim's Perspective" at Kresge Auditorium. Her talk was the first of a series of events sponsored by the Stanford Rape Education Project, as a part of Rape Awareness Week. An audience of more than 100 women and men gave her a lengthy standing ovation.
Since Smith was acquitted, Bowman has launched a public campaign for victims' rights. On Monday, she urged her listeners to call media decision-makers and tell them the public does not want to know the names of rape victims or intimate details about their private lives.
"They say that we, the public, want to know this kind of information," Bowman said. "In all my travels and conversations I never met anyone who agrees with that. Speak up; let your voice be heard. Help yourself by helping us stop the unnecessary further victimization of rape victims.
"Some of you have known me as the woman who testified behind the 'blue blob' in the rape trial. Many of you got to know me as Patricia Bowman, after my name was published, without my consent, by several media organizations, simply because I was a victim of crime. Others may know me because I made a personal decision to go public and talk about the crime that was committed against me."
Bowman said that going public has been very difficult for her but that she feels it was the right thing to do. Still, she has come to realize the extent to which "the truth can become an easily manipulated set of facts in the criminal justice system." Working for justice makes the decision to go public worthwhile, she said.
"Until March 13, 1991, I believed, like most of you, in some simple, common American values: truth, justice, humanity and the American way," she said. "On that day, I was sexually assaulted, and all that belief system was shattered.
"The rape destroyed me, physically and emotionally. I felt humiliated. I lost my ability to trust, my ability to hope, my ability to feel safe. I cried and cried. I had nightmares. I was placed on medication.
"A survey of rape victims showed that victims suffered the most intense anxiety within 6 to 10 days after the assault. I, however, wasn't given six days by the media," Bowman said.
"Within 48 hours of the assault committed against me, I heard car doors slam outside my door. The door bell rang. The telephone rang. Satellite trucks were outside my home. I was under siege. I was terrified. I knew that if the media had found me, the man who assaulted me could find me too."
News people were in her street, in her yard, on her property, day and night, making her and her daughter's life unbearable, Bowman said.
Tears in her eyes, she described the impact on her 1-year old daughter.
"She had to see her mommy get into the trunk of her grandmother's car, just to leave home," Bowman said. "And she has seen them, the strangers in the street, the strangers outside her bedroom window. A year after it all began, we still lock each and every window in our home, and we scare the monsters away, so my daughter can go to sleep."
The New York Times, one of the organizations that revealed Bowman's name in the beginning of the ordeal, told its readers everything there was to know about her daughter's bedroom, including the titles of her children's books, Bowman said.
"These books are kept on bookshelves in her room," Bowman said, "and the titles of the books are only visible by trespassing my property and looking through a 1-year-old's bedroom window.
"How does a traumatized mother explain this to her child? How do the people who victimized my family explain this to themselves?"
The media's invasion into her life went on for months, Bowman said.
"A few months after the assault, I was cooking in my kitchen, and my sister, who lived 2,000 miles away from me, called to tell me what I was wearing that night, because she saw me cooking in my kitchen on national TV," Bowman said.
"Why did the Times publish my name on April 17? Because the public had the right to know? What did the public have the right to know? Does the media have the right to force the non- reporting of sexual assault crimes based on the supposed 'right to know'? Does the media have the right to impede the recovery process of rape victims? Does the media have the right to impede justice?
"The press has a powerful tool in its hands, and this tool should be used in the spirit of the First Amendment, as a fundamental right to cherish a free and right society, not as a weapon used against that society," she said.
"Over one million women were raped last year. Statistics show that one of four women will be the victim of some form of sexual assault. It can be acquaintance rape, date rape or stranger rape. Anyway, it is still rape.
"I received many letters from elderly women, who were raped in their teens and never told anybody about it. This has to stop. Rape victims, and crime victims of all sorts, should have the right to recover, and they should have the right to tell just what they want, to whom they want, when they want," she said.
"I had to postpone my ability to enforce these rights because of the media's intense, inhuman involvement with my life. No victim should have to go through what I went through."
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