Tuesday 07 April 2020

Sometimes, a court ban on person’s name has the opposite effect

This blog was first published on Malta Today

The minute the news broke that the sports coach of a girls’ team had been sentenced for placing a camera in their changing room and secretly filming them, it blew up the Internet.

It wasn’t just the actual pervy act of this Peeping Tom which angered people the most, however. It was the fact that the Court had placed a ban on the publication of his name. The question on everyone’s lips was, inevitably, why? The Malta Today reported that it was to protect the identity of the victims who were aged between 23 – 28. However, to us, the public, it felt like he was the one being protected and not the young women whose privacy had been breached and who had unwittingly provided fodder for his fetish. The realization that someone had been covertly filming them when they were at their most vulnerable (by their coach yet, the very person whom they trusted) must have been a humiliating, embarrassing experience. I can understand that the ban was intended to spare them further embarrassment and yet the more I thought about it, the more that didn’t make sense. They did absolutely nothing wrong. Once the story became public, it should have been HIM who should have been made to feel embarrassed and ashamed, and not them.

What perhaps the Court failed to consider was that the details which were allowed to be published simply gave rise to a hotbed of speculation as everyone was trying to piece the bits and pieces together to figure out who the person was, simply through a process of elimination. When TVM added the detail that the sports in question was volleyball, the rumours began flying even more wildly.

As I see it, banning the name in this case, had the opposite effect. The news broke late on Tuesday afternoon and by that same evening, I had already learned the man’s possible identity simple because everyone knows someone who knows someone. A quick online search cross-referencing the info was all that was needed. By Wednesday, the information I had was practically 100% confirmed by other acquaintances. This is Malta, after all and there were 17 women involved. Someone is bound to let something slip.

There is another obvious problem with such a Court ban on the name in a case like this: once you are given information about the person’s occupation, everyone who works in that sector immediately falls under suspicion. It is like tarring everyone with the same brush (which is highly unfair) until the person is ultimately identified (which is inevitable).

In this case, the identifying clues were like Hansel & Gretel crumbs pointing in the same direction: sports coach, volleyball, girls’ team, director of a childcare centre, 43 years old. And, human nature being what it is, the more you try to “hide” someone’s identity, the more you can be sure people will be doing their utmost to unearth the truth.
But, in this case, it was not just prurient curiosity in order to gossip about this man and his kinky habits – many parents had very real reasons for wanting to know who he is precisely because he is involved in a childcare centre. I would have thought this much would have been obvious to the Court. Parents were demanding to know whether he is still involved in childcare* (and in coaching) and whether he would be banned from pursuing any similar types of jobs in the future.

Many people (especially women) were also appalled by the slap on the wrist given by the Court : a nine months’ jail sentence suspended for two years, a 300 Euro “compensation” to each woman, and an order for the man to seek psychiatric care. The man abused of his position of authority, he violated the women’s right to privacy with his voyeurism, he had video footage of them on pen drives and his computer hard disk (although the Police assured the Court that the videos were for his own use and not transmitted, and all data had been confiscated…but how can they be so sure in this digital age?).

Among the women I spoke with, the feeling was mutual: if we are serious about protecting women from sexual harassment, there should have been a much stronger message sent by the Court.

*UPDATE: The man has now been fired from his job at the childcare centre

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