Naming and Shaming

An article came out today discussing the Roastbusters debacle, framing it in terms of the trauma it has bestowed on women. One thing she makes a point of is not naming any of the players in the events of the past week, saying

“What they wanted was power and fame, and I refuse to play any part in that.”

In the US, some of the mass murderers, or those attempting to become such, have openly admitted that they were after the fame. And it works – Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are infamous. Adam Lanza was splashed all over the media. Few remember any of their victims – they’re just a list that may not even make the papers. These people get the fame they crave.

Fame is a goal of media personalities, and many of them would be thrilled to be reported on as much as John Tamihere and Willie Jackson. Sure, the publicity is very mixed – rape apologists supporting the pair, and those generally not on board with victim-blaming wanting formal apologies, resignations, or even for them to be fired. Most media outlets are in the ‘horrified please apologise’ camp, and that is swaying public opinion toward being decent human beings. The pair will be lapping it all up, though. It takes them from being two-bit talkback radio presenters to being squarely in the public eye. Perhaps it’s a good idea to leave their names out of written discourse. It might be a bit late for that though.

The kids, the Roastbusters themselves, would never have been aiming for the publicity rained down on them. They were a bunch of schoolboys, and I don’t think for a moment that they craved this level of notoriety. They definitely didn’t line up for death threats from vigilante mobs and gangs alike. However, there’s a good chance that what they were writing was aimed at getting them attention in their own circles.

Teenage boys being what they are, there’s likely to have been a level of boasting in their postings, an inflating of the circumstances to make the boys look more impressive. It’s the nature of teenagers. It has been claimed by friends of the group saying that it was all talk and no action at all, but given that there were four separate sexual assault charges over a period of two years, that seems highly unlikely. Whether the assaults occurred or not (and it’s rather likely that they did), it remains that the boys were aiming for some grade of infamy within their own social circle.

Is that level of wanting notoriety worth neglecting to name them? They wanted a little, but they really do not want what is happening to them now. I think these boys should not be named not because they were seeking publicity, but because they are suffering far more than they should for their crimes. If there’s a definition of cruel and unusual punishment, crucifixion by media at home and around the world is definitely part of it.

There’s another reason to not name the boys who have been outed so far. They were part of a group of at least half a dozen boys, and making them the scapegoat for the entire sick little circle isn’t fair. They’ve been plastered over every type of media known to man, and their brethren are able to hang out quietly, outside the media circus. I would rather none be named, but if those two are and the rest are not, the best we could offer the two boys is to let their names die out in the media.

What about the Roastbusters as a group epithet? It’s not singling out anyone, and it’s easier to use than ‘the premeditated sexual assault ring of youths operating out of West Auckland’. It’s a name that they gave themselves, and while I want to shelter the individual boys to an extent, I have no qualms about using their group name. It was only intended to be used among their social circles. It’s not a media attention-seeking name, and it’s a good shorthand for the group, and the naming of the scandal surrounding it.

There are reasons to leave names out of the public discourse, but they’re not all about preventing infamy. Simple mercy for some very battered boys should come into it too.

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