PCC: Take a Break identified sexual assault victim

The Press Complaints Commission has upheld a complaint against Take a Break magazine after it identified a woman who, as a child, had been sexually assaulted by her stepfather.

A real-life article in October revealed details of how the woman and her sister had been abused by their stepfather, who was subsequently jailed for rape and other sexual offences.

Take a Break named both victims, and included photographs of them, saying the women had waived their right to anonymity.

The woman complained to the PCC, through the charity Liberty, that while her sister had chosen not to remain anonymous and tell her story in return for a charity donation – she herself had not.

The PCC said the woman’s sister had understood the magazine would contact her directly in advance of the article being published, but it had not done so.

The press watchdog ruled today there had been an “unacceptable failure” on the part of the magazine to protect the complainant’s identity and it had clearly breached privacy rules and regulations banning the identification of victims of sexual assault.

The PCC said it was particularly concerned at the “apparent ease with which the story had appeared without sufficient checks having been made with the complainant”.

Stephen Abell, director of the PCC, said: “The preservation of the anonymity of victims of sexual assault is regarded as paramount under the code, which is particularly strict in this area.

‘This was an extremely serious breach of the code that ought never to have arisen, and it is of course right for the magazine to take steps to ensure that such an error does not occur again.

‘The commission has also requested that these steps be followed up further, given the seriousness of the matter”.

The magazine apologised sincerely to the complainant and immediately accepted that the Editors’ Code had been breached as the complainant had not waived her right to anonymity.

Take a Break told the PCC its reporter had told editorial staff on numerous occasions that both sisters had agreed to be identified and understood – incorrectly, it transpired – that the complainant’s sister was speaking on her behalf.

John Dale, editor of Take a Break, told the PCC he took full responsibility for not contacting the complainant directly, and outlined to the commission a number of changes which had been introduced to editorial practices to prevent such a mistake from happening again, including an insistence onwritten documentary evidence that those featured in such a story had agreed to be identified.

It is also illegeal to name anyone who has made allegation of a sexual assault under Section One of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, unless they waive their right to anonymity.

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