Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Alleged assault creates controversy in Naperville school district

Story: Naperville-area district's response to alleged assault debated by Russell Working and Jo Napolitano

This story hits a little closer to home for me- I'm from Naperville and went through the school district in question.

The story examines debate in the community about an 11-year-old boy who is the alleged victim of a sexual assault by two other boys at his middle school. The school board has not forced those boys to transfer, a choice the boy's father has protested, saying his son is being traumatized by having to face them. While one boy voluntarily transferred, the school board said it cannot expel them for an out-of-school incident of which they have not yet been proven guilty in court.

There are a lot of different players and concerns here, and the story does a good job summarizing and contextualizing them for readers who might not be aware of what's been going on.

I would have appreciated more legal context, however. Previous court cases or an impartial expert could have provided more guidance in why this is such a sticky issue for the school.

An ethical concept we talked about in class is embraced in this article- neither the alleged victim, his father or the alleged offenders are identified. The reporters mention this explicitly, explaining their decision to protect the identities of the parties involved, which would definitely be helpful for readers unfamiliar with the ethics of journalism.

In general, the story does a good job presenting the complexities of the issue and all of the different factors involved. While I have the knee-jerk reaction that the alleged victim should not have to face his attackers each day in school, the accused parties also have legal rights and are still presumed innocent. Still, leaving these three boys in school together does not sound like it is beneficial to anyone involved.


  1. Transparency is certainly the best motto: "The Tribune is not identifying the boys or their parents in order to protect the privacy of the children." Can you think of any instance where printing the names of sexual abuse victims is justified?

  2. Hey Rachel,

    I blogged about a news story in which the writer protected the interest of anonymous sources, too. It's amazing how Professor Helle's J-199 class comes back to hit us over the head.

    Although the story does conceal the identity of several key people in this whole alleged sexual assault case, that doesn't detract from the quality of information gathering. This story strikes the readers' interest with the element of conflict and calls into question how much authority school district administrators have for offenses that occur outside the school setting.

    The superintendent and school board member do their best of explaining what the school admin. CAN'T do. But notice how the journalists had to do their research and find out from the critics that one of the boys accused of allegedly assaulting the 11-year-old victim did cause an in-school brawl. That could somehow have given administrators reason to look further into the suspect's charges of sexual assault and link his behavior to a previous conflict.

    I agree. There should be more legal context in this story. A case like sexually assaulting someone and getting a weak administrative response, especially because it happened away from school grounds, is definitely an issue worth juxtaposing court cases with.

    There's a plethora of good sources in here: school board spokesperson, one of the suspect's lawye, University professor, an ex- board president (What was up with him stepping down? It seems to distract the readers from the main point of the story.)and others.