A rape victim has had a complaint against a regional Sunday newspaper upheld after it published a letter she wrote to her attacker.
The complaint arose after the Belfast-based Sunday Life published a story in January headlined “‘Sorry’ victim’s begging letter to her rapist.”
It revealed the victim had written to her assailant Jason King years after the offence, expressing regret at her role in his conviction.
Although the newspaper did not publish the name of the victim, the Press Complaints Commission ruled that the piece contained enough information to potentially reveal her identity – including a sample of her handwriting.
King had previously been convicted of 58 offences including including nine rapes involving girls between the ages of 12 and 15.
The victim’s diary had been used as evidence against him at his trial.
Years later, the victim wrote to King explaining that she had not wanted him to go to jail, would “never forgive” herself for her role in his conviction, and asking to visit him in prison.
Sunday Life had obtained the handwritten letter and showed it to the victim’s mother for comment before publishing it, obscuring only her name and address.
The newspaper said that while it greatly regretted the distress caused to the complainant, it considered that the letter indicated that she was still “infatuated” by a man who had manipulated her as a schoolgirl.
It claimed that its coverage, highlighting how King continued to have a psychological hold over his victims, was a matter of overwhelming public interest.
However the complainant said the newspaper had failed to respect her private life and that how she felt about King, and what she had written to him, were private matters.
She also said that the article had contained sufficient information – including her current age, her age at the time of the attack, and a sample of her handwriting – to identify her as a victim of sexual assault.
The Commission upheld the complaint, ruling that the story breached both Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice and Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault.)
Its ruling stated: “This was an unusual complaint, because the complainant had not been named and – notwithstanding the complaint under Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) – would not be identifiable to the vast majority of the newspaper’s readers.
“The complainant’s feelings towards Mr King were extremely intimate matters, so much so that the existence of the correspondence was unknown even to her family.
“Regardless of whether she was identifiable, she retained a right to privacy with respect to such correspondence. The question was whether a countervailing public interest justified publication.
It went on: “There was an undeniable public interest in exploring the deep and lasting effects of sexual abuse, which the complainant’s letter illuminated vividly. Balanced against this was her extreme vulnerability: she had been the child victim of extremely serious sexual offences and suffered ongoing trauma as a result.
“The reproduction of the letter and the public exposure of the complainant’s private feelings had evidently caused severe distress. In the Commission’s view, the newspaper could have achieved its aim – to expose the extent of Mr King’s continuing hold on one of his victims – through less intrusive means.
“In addition, before publication the newspaper had showed the complainant’s letter to her mother. The Commission acknowledged the newspaper’s position that it had acted to protect the complainant. Nonetheless, the complainant was an adult, with rights to privacy even within her own family.
“The Commission concluded that the decision to show the letter to the complainant’s mother without her consent had represented a further breach of Clause 3.”