Mercer PR sees huge backlash after naming alleged rape victim in press release

Agency sent release on behalf of Nauruan government in response to police investigation of alleged sexual assault

The Nauru parliament. The government hired Mercer PR to handle its communications

The Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) and an Australian senator are among several critics who have lashed out against local agency Mercer PR for releasing personal details of an alleged rape victim on the Micronesian island of Nauru.

A female Somali refugee being held at an Australian-run detention centre in Nauru made the allegations in September. The story has gained significant media and public interest since.

Mercer PR is handling communications for the Nauruan government. On Monday it issued a release saying a police investigation had found insufficient evidence over the sexual assault allegations.

However, in a move that has outraged the general public at large, the release contained an attachment with details of the woman’s name and intimate information regarding the alleged assault.

In a statement, the PRIA said it "strongly condemns" Mercer PR’s actions.

"The release of personal information that causes harm or distress to any person is strictly in breach of our Code of Ethics which binds our members to adherence of agreed standards of behaviour."

However, the PRIA went on to say that Mercer PR is not a member of the organisation, and therefore not bound by its ethics code.

PRWeek Asia could not reach Mercer PR for comment, but company founder Lyall Mercer did defend himself to Guardian Australia, saying the release had been distributed on behalf of the Nauru government.

Australia has a privacy law, which prohibits disclosing a person’s personal details without their consent.

When asked by Guardian Australia over Mercer PR’s awareness of Australia’s privacy law, Mercer said: "I’m not going to talk about it. We represent the Nauru government. We simply represent the government. We do communications for them. I can’t answer any more." 

Australian MP Sarah Hanson-Young of the Greens party has taken to Twitter to vent her anger at the release.

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