Monday, January 14, 2013

College woman has intercourse, cries 'sexual assault,' then refuses to cooperate with police -- yet the OSU newspaper brands her a 'victim'

At OSU, an 18-year-old female student told police she returned with a male student to the latter’s dorm room after participating in the Mirror Lake jump (that's an event where OSU students jump into the OSU pond on the Thursday night prior to the annual football game between the Buckeyes and the Michigan Wolverines). According to the news report, the two reportedly had sexual intercourse. Later, when she returned to her own dorm room, the woman became visibly upset, and a staff member called the police. However, the woman decided not to press charges, and the case was closed because she "refused to cooperate,” according to a police report.

That's it; there is nothing more to the story. There is no indication as to why the female student refused to cooperate, and we will not speculate.

We include this story in this blog because Liz Young, who wrote the news story about it in OSU's The Lantern, repeatedly refers to the female accuser as "the victim." The male student she accused is referred to as "the suspect."  There is not even a hint in the story that the accuser might not be an actual victim.

If the accuser is a "victim," then the student she accused must be guilty of sexual assault. By branding the accuser a "victim" before a single scrap of evidence has been admitted to prove the accused's guilt, Liz Young does a grave disservice to (1) the presumptively innocent young man, who deserves more than a rush to judgment in The Lantern even if he isn't named; (2) actual rape victims, because we trivialize rape when we include among its "victims" women who might not be actual victims; and (3) Young's readers, who are entitled to accurate reporting but receive something less than that when the newspaper transforms an accuser into a "victim."

Words matter, especially in newspapers. It is not a valid excuse to parrot terminology used by the police if it isn't accurate. Reporters are not stenographers for law enforcement. Calling the accuser a "victim" is no more appropriate than calling the young man she accused "the falsely accused student."  Our guess is that The Lantern would not allow that, and for good reason. Similarly, it is unfathomable to us why The Lantern happily adorns the accuser with the mantle of victimhood without furnishing even a scrap of evidence demonstrating the description is accurate.

Ours is the world's leading blog that gives voice to the wrongly accused. We are ever-vigilant to affronts to the presumptively innocent. Once, we caught the New York Times making the same error. The Times ran a story on-line about the rape charge against Lawrence Taylor. The story initially included this sentence: "The Journal News reported that the victim was a runaway from the Bronx . . . ." We complained to the Times reporter credited with writing the story, and immediately the line above was changed to the following: "The Journal News reported that the girl was a runaway from the Bronx . . . ."

We are sending a copy of this link to Liz Young and, on behalf of the community of the wrongly accused, we ask her to change the story to reflect that the accuser is just that, an accuser -- not a "victim."

Here is the story: