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Human Rights Reporter and PTSD Essayist Accused of Violating Victim’s Privacy

Amidst the ridiculous hysteria that has surrounded Mac McClelland‘s personal essay about using violent sex to cope with PTSD, a possibly valid criticism has gone virtually unnoticed. It’s a criticism that’s particularly relevant to journalists who report on human rights abuses: A rape victim is alleging that McClelland violated her privacy.

The woman, who is being referred to as K., says that she did not give consent to be written about by McClelland. The women met while McClelland was in Haiti researching a story for Mother Jones about the displacement camps.

The allegation was brought to light over the weekend on Essence.com by Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat. She says that K. informed Mother Jones she did not want to be written about after McClelland live-tweeted personal information, including K.’s first name. McClelland has already taken heat for this, and rightly so – revealing identifying information about a sexual assault victim, even with their consent, which McClelland believed she had, can have devastating consequences.

But the Essence story leaves a lot out.

Both McClelland and Mother Jones have responded in the comments section. Both note that K. and her family allowed McClelland to spend several days with them, with the understanding that she was a journalist working on a story. When K. contacted the magazine through an advocate nearly 2 months later to say she did not want to be written about, Mother Jones “cut any direct account of this victim from the story.” They explain, “Although we would never allow a politician or a corporate spokesperson to walk back access or quotes, in this case, we wanted to respect the victim’s wishes and were sensitive to the inherent communications problems.”

But McClelland did mention K. in her GOOD essay, and that is potentially problematic. Says Mother Jones:

Editors had no prior knowledge of this decision and were not involved in reviewing the piece. Mac understands that this was a serious lapse in judgment. We are reviewing our policies regarding freelance work by staffers.

McClelland herself has expressed horror and remorse that she caused K. pain.

Hopefully this will lead to a constructive discussion on reporting about rape, and not devolve into more self-righteous sensationalism.

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