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Tue May 1, 2012
News media reports can make sex crimes more difficult to prosecute
Reporters, educators and counselors gathered last week at the Rape Crisis Center as Sexual Assault Activism Month came to a close.
WHQR’s Bob Workmon was one of only two reporters who attended the discussion designed to help news organizations more clearly focus the language used to report sexual abuse, most notably the blurring of the line between sex and sexual violence. Here’s his report.
Rape Crisis Center’s forum on media and sexual violence last week sought to encourage members of the local media to examine how we report sexual crimes. What emerged was a glaring picture of the core challenge facing victims and agencies working on their behalf, that is the perpetuation of what are called ‘rape myths,’ reasons that many people use to dismiss claims of sexual violence. RCC educators cited language as a key element in misreporting stories such as the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal**, in which the former head of the World Bank was cast as a charming old-world playboy rather than a perpetrator.
Julie Ozier, the RCC’s supervisor:
“How we talk about the crimes of sexual violence in our community lends to those myths. You know, people say ‘well he forced her to have sex. Well it wasn’t sex. It was an act of violence. It was an assault.”
Ozier says that indulging rape myths, essentially blaming victims, is particularly damaging to efforts aimed at prosecuting and preventing these crimes.
**Clarification: Dominique Strauss-Kahn was not convicted of any crime in the above-referenced incident. In fact, the presiding judge dismissed all charges at the request of prosecutors.