Do Girls Gone Wild Plaintiffs Deserve Anonymity?

Four women suing Girls Gone Wild, at least one of whom was 13 when filmed, are asking that their names stay under wraps. But several newspapers have argued in court that they have a right to know the women's names.

There have already been criminal charges involving the victim: Francis pleaded guilty to not having kept proper records of the women's ages and identities, as required under anti-child pornography laws. (The defense attorneys had said the women signed forms saying they were 18.) He also pleaded no contest to several counts of felony child abuse and misdemeanor prostitution.

During those proceedings, the victims' public anonymity was a given. But their civil cases have been another story.

The women's lawyer has said that publishing their names would open them up to ridicule, but two major newspaper companies have argued that their names are in the public interest. "It ought to be up to the press to manage this information — and not up to the courts," one of the company's lawyers argued, according to the AP.

There is something rather creepy about all this — the newspapers wouldn't be barred from covering the trials, just from publishing the women's names. Beyond what takes place in the courtroom, what sort of journalistic relevance do their names have to the extent that these companies are putting their legal muscle and money behind it?

Indeed, the three-judge panel was unsatisfied on that very point, according to the AP: "Chief Judge Joel Dubina pressed the media attorneys several times to explain whether journalists would face any harm if the plaintiffs remained anonymous." The answer was a lame reference to "factchecking."

Journalists don't often find themselves in the business of defending lack of disclosure, but the interest in these women's names — not knowing them, just publishing them — smacks of pure prurience. They may as well just come out and say that they want to publish their names so that they can dig deeper into their pasts. Just how often did these girls go out drinking? How many guys did they mess around with? What did their neighbors and friends think about their slutty behavior? Is it possible they were just asking for their exploitation?

Free Speech Battle Over Girls Gone Wild Lawsuit [WP]