Thursday, August 19, 2010

How many times can a newspaper call a possible false accuser the "victim"? Read on . . .

This news report highlights many of the things wrong with our "rape culture." Don't take my word for it; read it yourself.  Link:

Among many other informal rules of the modern news media when it comes to its coverage of rape is this: if there are dueling claims of rape and false reporting of rape, assume a rape occurred. One of the best ways to do that is to make sure you continually refer to the rape accuser as the "victim."

This particular news report concerns an investigation by a Sheriff's department into dueling claims of sexual assault and false informing about an alleged rape involving a male and a female inmate at a county jail.  The Sheriff concluded that no charges would be filed against either inmate because "no crime has been committed that can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt."

That result is fairly typical.  But the Kokomo Perspective won't let the matter rest.  First, it suggest that the female prisoner, who was isolated from the rest of the female prison population in lock-down for reasons unknown, was permitted to be in a shower around male convicts without a guard present in violation of jail policy.

So what could this purported violation of jail policy mean?  Well, based on the two persons interviewed by the Kokomo Perspective, the mother and the cell mate of the "victim," it means a rape occurred. 

The mother believes that the jail is not pursuing the "victim's" rape charge because it is attempting to cover up its own negligence in leaving a naked female prisoner unattended with -- gulp -- naked male prisoners.  Neither of the persons interviewed have first-hand knowledge about what happened in the shower. The only evidence of the alleged rape is the say-so of the female prisoner.

Among other things, the mother said this: "[Major] Steven Rogers told me that, yes, this child was raped. They did a rape kit at St. Joseph Hospital, and there was penetration.” In fact, the news article corrects the mother: Rogers said that what he told the mother about the rape kit “indicated that she had sex.”

And that sums up the problem with the article.  Instead of merely exploring whether the jail breached a policy to keep male and female inmates separate, the article seems intent on suggesting -- through extended quotations of intimates of the "victim" -- that the jail breached such a policy and that this breach allowed a rape to occur.

The article never seems to consider the possibility that if the jail breached a policy to keep male and female inmates separate, such breach more likely resulted in consensual sex.  I suspect that one of the purposes underlying the policy to keep naked male and female prisoners separate is to insure that they won't engage in consensual sex because, for a variety of reasons, that's not what society wants prisoners doing in jail.

Consensual sex is, of course, far, far more common than rape, but why let that fact get in the way of a good rape story?  Let us be honest, consensual sex doesn't sell newspapers the way rape does.  There's no conflict; no customary male villain; no female damsel in distress victimized by a male-dominated law enforcement apparatus; nothing to get the readers' blood boiling.

The journalistic decision to suggest that a rape occurred by playing up the rape angle rather than merely focusing on the alleged breach of the jail policy highlights a common failing when it comes to news reporting about rape. One of the best ways to play up the rape angle is to make sure you let your readers know that you think the rape accuser is the "victim."  How do you do that?  Why bother being subtle?  If you want people to think the accuser was raped, go ahead and just call her the "victim."  This article does that not once, or even twice, but seven times. That's right: seven times.

How many times must we say this?  By labeling the accuser the "victim" despite the fact that there are dueling charges of rape and false reporting that, the Sheriff has concluded, do not warrant charges, the newspaper has impliedly rushed to judgment and declared the rape accuser's allegation to be factual and the male's version of the facts to be a lie.
Such a description also does a grave disservice to the readers of the Kokomo Perspective who are entitled to accurate reporting but receive something less than that when the paper transforms a rape accuser into a "victim."