Editorial: Prejudicial news coverage of rape won’t help anyone

RapeedcartoonIt’s hard enough being 16, navigating high school and dealing with the gossip of peers.

However, one young girl is dealing with more than just malicious rumors — much more. The Steubenville rape case has gained nationwide publicity due to the controversial way in which several outlets have reported it. The tone of the coverage did not include the sympathy and understanding you might expect a person in this situation to receive, or even objectivity, which is essential in news reporting.

It involved two high school football players from Steubenville, Ohio, who were found guilty and convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl at a party.

The case attracted national attention from bloggers, hacking groups and all mainstream news media outlets in what can only be described as another chapter in the long history of biased, misguided and apologetic reporting on rape cases that shames our reputation and credibility as journalists.

This case, which could probably go down in history as one of the most public rape cases to date, due to the wealth of text messages, videos and cell phone pictures that showed and discussed the victim while she was unconscious, was further exacerbated by media coverage that engaged in victim-blaming. Victimized first by her attackers, this young rape survivor was further harmed by prejudicial coverage that offered sympathy to her attackers and highlighted their troubles.

Trent Mays was sentenced to a minimum of two years in a juvenile correctional facility and Ma’lik Richmond was sentenced to a minimum of one year. However, like Mays, Richmond could be in detention until he is 21.

CNN reported that the Department of Youth Services will rule whether the two boys should be detained longer, which will depend on their behavior while incarcerated and rehabilitation.
CNN also reported the two will be required to register as sex offenders and undergo treatment while in detention.

The infamous Web hacking group Anonymous released information containing the victim’s name, making her a national target for hostile scrutiny from those in her town who value football over her human rights. The town is largely regarded as a football town: not a town that likes football, but a town that revolves around football, in which the coach and his players were local celebrities.

Once the victim reported the rape, the school and the whole town was divided between those who believed her and those who vehemently did not. Once her name was released by Anonymous, it was included in the reports of all three major news broadcasts. There have been so many moral and humanitarian crimes committed throughout this case that they are hard to count. But let’s name a few:

1) ABC, CNN and NBC all reported this case with an indefensible compassion for the convicted rapists. A CNN reporter said, “It was incredibly emotional, incredibly difficult even for an outsider like me to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students literally watched as they believed their life fell apart.” Another CNN reporter said, “When you listen to it and you realize that they could stay until they’re 21… what’s the lasting effect though, of two young men being found guilty in juvenile court of rape.”

Throughout the whole report there was no mention of the victim and the incredibly negative backlash she was getting for reporting the rape.

The broadcasters focused on the fact that Mays and Richmond would be labeled convicted sex offenders for the rest of their lives and that their potential football careers were ruined. Not only does this make light of the trauma inflicted on the victim, it makes light of the ethical code all journalists should have. The opinion of the reporters shouldn’t have been reflected in the broadcasts at all, no matter how heinous the crime or how promising the two young men were.

2) The victim has received several death threats from her peers and fellow citizens who claim she was lying about the rape despite the wealth of evidence pointing to Mays and Richmond. This has sparked a national debate between rape apologists and those who stand for women’s rights.

3) There are two distinct sides to this situation: the rape apologists and the victim humanizers. Rape apology is any argument that asserts that rapists can be provoked into raping by what the victim does or does not do. The victim humanizers counter the rape apologists with, “What if she were your sister/mother/daughter, etc…?”

This argument is even more harmful to us as a society because it values the victim only for the fact that she is loved by someone else. Compassion for the victim shouldn’t be contingent on whether he/she is related to you or not. Human decency should cross any social or familial ties in this instance. Both of these arguments are highly misguided.

It is ridiculous that we are in the year 2013 and we have yet to make the distinction that no one deserves to be raped for the pure fact that they are human and have value regardless of their gender, race, religion or socioeconomic status.