Monday, June 16, 2014

It Ain't Her Fault

What do you get when a few journalists together in a newsroom and a poorly written press release about an attempted rape comes off the fax machine?

Lively debate.

Here's the scenario: the police beat reporter mentioned that the release included a comment from the district attorney's office about the party the victim went to the night she was attacked and that she may have - GASP! - actually consumed alcohol at said party. The release said she was asleep when her attacker snuck into her room and tried to rape her. Yep - asleep. Not "passed out." Not "highly inebriated." Not "sloppy drunk." Just. Asleep.

The reporter and I had the same question: why was it necessary to mention that she'd gone to a party and possibly drank the night she was a victim of a violent crime?

Allergic to nonsense...
We saw it like this: had the crime been an attempted robbery and she asleep when it occurred, would the fact that she drank have been mentioned? Honestly, I was surprised they did not mention the type of nightgown she was wearing during the attack.

The other two editors didn't agree. They did not see the terms "alcohol" and "party" as faulting the victim, but only as indicators that she was unable to defend herself. "It just goes to illustrate what a scum this guy really is because he attacked someone who obviously could not defend herself," the desk editor said.

Remember, the information said ASLEEP.  Not DRUNK. Another editor said the wording used probably showed that she was drunk because if she wasn't, she might have been able to fight back. A sleeping person, he said, would surely have been able to react.

But nowhere in the info we got did it say she was unable to react. Or that she didn't. That seemed to me to be total speculation.

And as a result, the reporter did not want to include it in the story. The desk editor overruled her - but suggested that she discuss it with the managing editor if she still had a problem with it. The words were still hanging in a bubble above us - like in a cartoon - and the reporter was out of her chair and on her way to do just that. And guess what? It was decided it was OK to include the info about the party as long as it was attributed to the DA who said it.

And my mouth is still hanging open.

Let me fill in some blanks: the other two editors and the managing editors are male. The reporter and I are not.

Did that have anything to do with the idea that the three of them didn't quite seem to get the victim blaming/slut shaming the DA was trying to push via the release? I'm sure it had a lot to do with it.

And I was HOT for the rest of the daggone day.

Just so we're clear, it is never ok to make the victim of any crime the reason s/he was the victim. I have a real problem with the idea that women in sexual assault situations are somehow the exception. What she wore, what she consumed, whether she kissed the assailant are TOTALLY irrelevant when force is involved or a "no" is ignored.

Asleep in your bed in your own home seems like a place to assume you are relatively safe. The assumption of fault on the part of the sleeper is a stretch in my book.

But, I'm sure the DA is betting that more folks in the possible jury pool will be swayed to think that somehow, the victim does bare some onus because, well, she had the audacity to go to a party and possibly drink the night she was attacked. And you know what? The DA might be right.

And that's a total, total shame, IMHO...


  1. I get where you are coming from. But to come from the position that any questions with regard to what happened the night of the attack are an attempt to blame the victim is, to put politely, not wise.

    Every victim of every violent crime has to answer questions as to what he or she was doing prior to the event. If I am beaten by a gang of thugs who followed me to my car out of a night club then to have a police office ask me if I was drinking is not an attempt to blame me for what happened, but merely to gather all information and decide later what is and is not relevant to an investigation.

    As to the DA's motivation, I am only guessing, but since they make their careers out of convictions then I'd wager that the reason behind his desire to include the facts of her evening was not to undermine his own career by giving a rapist any kind of defense.

    I guess what I am saying is this: Yes, string the rapist up. Criminals of that type are a danger to everyone and have no place in our society.

    And at the same time, lets not treat rape victims as the only type of violent crime victims who are immune from question or scrutiny. Because if we are to operate under the presumption of innocence until proven guilty then all claims (both accusation and defense) must be questioned. It is the only fair way to enforce law.

  2. I never said ANY questions about the victim = victim blaming, but, yeah, I am calling the need to point out that she'd been to a party where alcohol was served an unnecessary mention.

    See, back in the day, women who were attacked were questioned about what they wore, how they acted before the attack and who they may have slept with waaaaay before the attack happened. The message: it is up the the victim to be responsible for the attacker's actions. If she wouldn't have dress/acted like that, she might have been spared, you see. Here, the need to mention a party BEFORE it was made plain that the victim was a. in the comfort of her own home where there should be some assumption of relative safety and b. asleep and not passed-out drunk, is totally ridiculous. What is the possible point except to say that the victim shoulders some of the responsibility?

    I call bullsh*t on that. Because that type of "scrutiny" is a freaking slippery slope. No, it ain't her fault, but his. Attempted rape is a violent act, as is getting robbed at gunpoint. But I'm sure the argument about whether or not to include the DA's statements about what the robbery victim may have been drinking, wearing or doing the night of the attack would not even have been necessary - because it never would have been said.

    You don't have to agree - just know that it doesn't make it any less true.