October 26, 2012

Bill Nemitz: Innocents, innocence will suffer from 'the list'

Call it a request for calm before the storm.

"Unfortunately, at this point in time, we find ourselves dealing with negative publicity generated by the presence of an alleged prostitution ring within our town," wrote Regional School Unit 21 Superintendent Andrew Dolloff in a memo last week to teachers and staff in schools throughout Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel.

"In recent days, we have been told that the names of the accused participants will be released to the media," Dolloff continued. "We are not clear that this is a factual statement, but nonetheless, we must consider how the release of such information will impact our students."

Dolloff is correct -- on every count.

For months, all of southern Maine has buzzed with speculation, anticipation and more than a little titillation about "the list" -- those 100-plus names, some reportedly prominent, some not so much, of men who allegedly paid for the sexual services of Alexis Wright behind the facade of her "dance studio" in Kennebunk.

For most of us, it's been a modern-day parlor game: Who's on the list? Any bets how long before their jobs/careers go up in smoke? Will they show up in court or, more likely, dispatch their attorneys to enter their pleas and pay their fines?

But then, just over a week ago, someone threw a very cold, very wet blanket over the overheating gossip mill.

We don't know her name. She posted on the Portland Press Herald website only as "Pebble in a pond" in the reader comments below a story headlined "Clients on alleged Kennebunk prostitution list likely to be charged."

"All around southern Maine the last weeks of August hearts were broken and families were torn apart as those men, knowing their names might be publicized, told their partners the sad smarmy truth," she wrote. "I know this because I'm one of those wives."

She went on, with remarkable eloquence, to note that release of the names "would give lots of people great fun watching the public humiliation and would provide fabulous fodder for those who thrive on mean-spirited gossip."

But at the same time, she reminded us, it looms as the worst of nightmares for the wives and children of those charged as they try to go on with life under a cloud of "humiliation and despair."

"I can't imagine, if the names are published, how I will ever even leave the house knowing what whispers would follow me everywhere," she wrote. "The idea that my beautiful innocent children will inevitably be teased by schoolyard bullies literally makes me sick to my stomach."

Yes, the woman noted, her husband "did a horrible, unconscionable thing. He is completely humiliated. He contemplates suicide. Trust me when I tell you he is suffering, since that seems to be what folks are hungry for."

And finally, "I pray with all my heart that the list is never made public."

Her prayer will not be answered. This week, Kennebunk police are expected to begin releasing the names of those charged and yes, they will show up in print.

Editors at both the York County Coast Star and the Biddeford Journal Tribune told me late last week that they plan to publish all of the names -- just as they do those of anyone else whose arrest shows up on the local police log.

Here at the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, deliberations continue on whether to publish all of the names or just those considered publicly prominent -- and, should our editors go with the latter, where to draw that line.

That said, such decisions these days are hardly limited to local news organizations.

(Continued on page 2)

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