Wednesday, June 11, 2014

An example of lousy news reporting of an alleged rape

Too often, news reporting destroys the good name of presumptively innocent men accused of sexual assault. Rape is widely regarded as the loathsome of all acts (for many people, even more loathsome than murder), so the stigmatization of a false rape claim is unique and can be severe, even life altering. This blog receives requests from wrongly accused men to remove their names from stories reported on our site even though the stories portray them as victims. They tell us that having stories appear on-line that allude to a rape accusation against them -- even though the accusation was shown to be false -- harms their reputations. We always comply.

The following is an almost verbatim news story about a false rape claim that appeared in the Newark Advocate, see here. The only change I made to the story is that I am not posting the name of the accused man. When I first read the news story, one fact was painfully obvious: inexplicably, the accuser is not named, but the accused is. The news story recounts an atrocious lie the woman allegedly told about the man. First, read the story:
Rape charge against Newark man dismissed after woman admits to lying
NEWARK — A rape charge against a 22-year-old Newark man was dismissed Monday after the woman who filed the report told law enforcement officers she lied about being sexually assaulted. 
______________ had been charged with the first-degree felony May 20 following the woman’s report and an interview with police. The woman reportedly told police ______________ had held her down and covered her mouth while engaging in sexual conduct with her. 
According to a Newark Division of Police report, the woman who reported the sexual assault admitted to police Monday morning that she had lied. 
Assistant Licking County Prosecutor Chris Reamer filed a motion to dismiss Monday and ______________ was released from the Licking County Justice Center. In his motion, Reamer said the possibility the woman had lied was made known to law enforcement after Facebook communications had been brought to the attention of police. 
The woman could face falsification charges for filing a false police report.
At the time I am writing this post, there are ten comments under the story. Presumably, these are regular readers, not civil libertarians or "men's rights advocates." The comments are typical for news stories like this -- they express outrage and a desire to punish the false accuser. Four of the comments want the woman named. One reader wrote: "She should face jail and be publically [sic] named, the advocate had no issue giving the real victims name in this case[.]" Another wrote: "She is no longer a victim. She should be named and charged" Another wrote: "again, you name the poor guy who gets blamed, but protect the woman who made the claim,,NAME HER for darn sake[.]"

But wait, that's not the end of the story. Last month, before the woman recanted, the Newark Advocate ran a story reporting the alleged rape in which it splashed the young man's mugshot on its site and even provided his address for anyone interested. See here. But in the original news story, the following passage appears (again I am redacting the name of the accused): "______________ allegedly admitted to the assault during a police interview and said he knew the victim did not want to engage in the sexual conduct, 'but because he had consumed alcohol and was sexually aroused, he had sex with her anyway.' The victim may have some mental handicaps, according to the statement of facts."

In the most recent news story where the woman recanted, the Newark Advocate doesn't bother to mention the alleged admission of the accused or the accuser's purported mental handicaps. If the man admitted to the assault, and if the woman has mental handicaps, should law enforcement be crediting her recantation? Or was the original story wrong? Did the Advocate question police about why the recantation of a supposedly mentally challenged young woman has been credited in the face of the accused's purported admission? Isn't that something that readers of the Advocate would want to know? And if the recantation was worthy of being credited, why on earth does the Advocate print the man's name but not the woman's in the latest story?

The Newark Advocate doesn't bother to tell us any of it. We are left with only questions because, we fear, this story wasn't "big" enough to investigate thoroughly even if it was life-altering for either the man or the woman involved. Sadly, that's all too common for stories like this.