George Zimmerman is having more than his 5 minutes of fame lately. After the Trayvon Martin trial ended, we’ve heard he was pulled over for speeding, and now the news reports that his wife called 911 because of a domestic incident in which he assaulted her father and threatened her while holding a gun. The news coverage of the domestic incident even has the recording of the 911 call for us all to hear her terrified call for help. Why do we listen to the call? Simply because we’re curious.
I recently read a Dear Abby column that addressed a serious concern. Some victims may be reticent to call 911 because they don’t want their call to become public knowledge. Abby took a hard stand that safety is far more important than privacy. But I think the issue is much deeper. Why do we feel we need to know the details of crimes… even at the expense of the victim? I often notice that whenever a local paper covers a rape, the public clamors to know the details, Why was the victim in that location? Why was she out so late? Often the on-line chatter is focused almost entirely on the victim, instead of the assailant.
Sometimes victims of relationship and sexual abuse choose not to engage the criminal justice system, simply because by doing so their very private victimization will become public. A rape victim may feel that a trial will not guarantee justice and will instead keep the assault present in her life for the months, sometimes years, until the case is closed. For some victims healing means moving on, and the court process not only hampers this, but continually re-traumatizes as the rape is repeatedly revisited. These are hard choices victims need to make— justice in time (maybe) or closure now. But they have the opportunity to make this choice about their privacy.
Not so when the crisis is happening. When someone is in fear and calls the police, they don’t have time to consider if that call will jeopardize their privacy. More and more, the news reports provide the details of these calls… or as happened with Sheila Zimmerman, we hear the victim’s frightened voice as the actual 911 recording is released to the public. When a victim calls in crisis… in fear, she/he presumes communication with an emergency responder… not with every person who watches the news or reads the paper. Would the caller make that same choice knowing that their fear and the very private details of how they were violated might become tomorrow’s headline story?
America wants to know… but do we need to… and should we? At the expense of the victim?