Mercer PR criticised for releasing the name of alleged rape victim on nauru
Australian firm Mercer PR has been widely criticised, including by the Public Relations Institute of Australia, the industry’s peak body, for releasing the name of an alleged rape victim on Nauru, as well as information pertaining to the case.
On Monday, the public relations firm released the victim’s name in a police briefing document given to the media on behalf of the Nauruan government, as well as graphic details of the alleged rape by two Nauruan men. The brief also included the results of a vaginal examination. This document and associated media release were issued to announce that there was no evidence to indicate that a crime had been committed and the case would be closed.
The Public Relations Institute of Australia released a statement through its Honorary Secretary, Arthur E. Delbridge, reminding the public that it ‘strongly condemns the distribution and publication’ of material that invades the privacy of individuals (www.pria.com.au/priablog/pria-statement-on-information-released-about-alleged-nauru-victim). While Delbridge conceded that Mercer PR does not belong to the Institute and is therefore not bound by its Code of Ethics, the incident highlighted the need to uphold professional and ethical standards in the industry.
Importantly, these allegations are separate to those of the Somali refugee flown to Australia for an abortion this week after claiming that she was also raped on Nauru. Abortions are illegal on Nauru and the case caused widespread outrage, with a public campaign demanding immediate assistance from the Australian government for the 23-year-old (http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/refugee-who-says-she-was-raped-on-nauru-thanks-government-supporters-over-abortion-request-20151012-gk6ot1.html).
Aside from the peak Australian public relations body, the outcry has been raised by others including a former New South Wales police detective, Peter Fox, and Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young. Fox claimed that, after working for 37 years in the police force, he had never seen the names of victims of sexual crimes released and called the situation ‘extraordinary’, displaying ‘the real lack of care and protection of some of these poor people that are being abused in detention’. Meanwhile, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young called the release ‘outrageous’, claiming that it sets a dangerous precedent for other vulnerable women on Nauru.
Mercer PR defended itself on the grounds that there was ‘no legal reason to suppress her name according to Nauruan law’. They also argued that the woman’s name had only appeared in the attached police brief, not the media release, and that it was up to the media to choose to release her name. However, the PR firm has since gone into damage control, setting its Twitter and Instagram accounts to ‘private’ and deleting links from its website.
Nauruan Justice Minister, David Adeang, asked the media to stop blaming Mercer PR, as the release was the government’s decision. He added that ‘the police investigation has shown there was no rape’, hence ‘the person in question is not a rape victim’. However, the woman’s lawyer, George Newhouse, warned that the incident could have the potential to result in fewer victims coming forward to report allegations of sexual assault, in fear of having their details exposed to the public.