Rape Coverup Shows What Happens When Public Officials Value Themselves Over the Public

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2017/06/27/rape-coverup-shows-what-happens-when-public-officials-value-themselves-over-the-public/

Have you ever noticed that so-called “privacy” laws often end up protecting the privacy of … the government?

Case in point:  A rape by a 17-year-old boy of a 14-year-old student at a public high school in Manchester, New Hampshire. It happened in 2015, so you’d think by now it’d be old news. But it’s new news, because the authorities just announced it … last week.

What? Two years later?

And it’s not an “alleged” rape, by the way. The perpetrator was arrested the same day it happened and confessed to police. Nor is it statutory rape, where two consenting minors break the law. The perpetrator got 10 to 20 years for it.

So why’d it take this long to become public?

No one announced it.

Not the police chief, who told The Union Leader of Manchester, New Hampshire last week that police never release information about “juvenile-on-juvenile” crime. (Not true; cops in New Hampshire can’t release the names of minors, but they can say what happened; and once the defendant was cleared to stand trial as an adult, then even his name could have been released.)

Not school officials. The current superintendent wasn’t on the job when the rape occurred, but he covered for his predecessor when asked about the case. He actually told a reporter that school officials want to be “transparent,” but that in this case they couldn’t be because if they had told parents about a rape in their children’s school then the parents would have wanted to know the details.

You don’t say.

He also claimed that letting parents know the details could hamper the criminal investigation.

(Hmmmm … if you tell parents that there’s been an allegation of a rape in the school, then maybe the perpetrator who has been arrested for rape will find out he’s under investigation for … rape?)

So how did anybody find about this case?

The county prosecutor issued a press release after the perpetrator was sentenced to prison last week.

Asked why he waited so long, the county attorney said his office waits until the case is over to issue a press release — and then only when prosecutors win!

That’s so people can know that criminals are held accountable, the county attorney told the reporter.

Right. It has nothing to do with being re-elected or preparing the groundwork for higher political office. It also has nothing to do with padding his office’s perceived batting average in high-profile cases. Because prosecutors never do that sort of thing.

Then he was asked about the news value of the case and why he didn’t announce it just for that.

“We don’t know what you’ll find interesting,” he replied, apparently with a straight face.

Then he invoked — you guessed it — privacy.

Sure, parents should know about serious crimes committed at their children’s school, he acknowledged. But what about privacy?

“How do you do that without violating the kid’s right to be a kid?” Hogan said.

Presumably he meant the privacy of the victim, not the perpetrator.

As bizarre as this situation is, there’s a certain logic to it if you’re following a certain trend. It has gotten hard in many cases for reporters to get information quickly about accidents and violent incidents, because some public officials hide behind the health-privacy rules in the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 to withhold information. (That’s why you see circumlocutions in news stories such as “non-life-threatening injuries” instead of a description of bumps and bruises or a broken arm.)

What started out as a noble idea — protecting the privacy of medical patients — has ended up being a boon for opaqueness-friendly bureaucrats.

As government gets more disconnected from the governed, people in authority sometimes get the idea that they have some sort of proprietary interest in public information — that they own it somehow and can decide when or if it becomes known by the public.

This is dangerous for at least two reasons. First, and most basic, how are people supposed to figure out what they should and shouldn’t do if they don’t have the facts? For instance:  In the New Hampshire rape case, how many parents might have warned their child to stay away from fringe areas of the school building or might have yanked their child out of the school altogether had they known what happened? That’s their call to make. But they can’t even make it if they lack basic information about what’s going on in the school.

Second, if government officials get the idea they can decide when and whether to release public information, we’re likely to get more such behavior. Or perhaps we already do.

In other words:

What else aren’t they telling us?

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