This was broken down for me quite clearly during a prosecutor’s training on how to prosecute sexual assault. We broke down an article covering an assault as well as an article covering the theft of an automobile. This was an extremely impactful exercise for me and I would like to take a moment to direct my rage in a productive way by breaking down this article I just read by The Associated Press & reprinted by The Washington Post covering the rape of a 13-year-old boy in Detroit.
I can’t “publish” or “redistribute” the article so you’ll have to look it over yourself but here I can break down the highlights and how they so eloquently imply that this little boy just might be lying about getting raped by two grown men.
Step One: Use the words “alleged” and “claimed” as many times as possible. These words appear 5 times in this one article, including the title “Police: Alleged sex assault of Detroit boy may not be ‘random’; pursuing person of interest” In addition to the 5 appearances noted above, the word “allegations” was used twice.
Step Two: Refer to the rape as an “incident”
“A preliminary investigation by the Detroit police sex crimes unit revealed the incident “does not appear to be a random act, and the victim may have known the two male suspects,” according to a press release issued Thursday evening by the police department’s public information office.”
By using the word “incident” instead of rape or assault, you are better able to draw the attention away from the brutal attack the victim just experienced and focus on more important things.
Step Three: Imply that the victim “knew” the suspects (see above quotation). This implication was reiterated and specifically challenged by the mother of the victim who explained that “He didn’t know anyone. He saw them around the neighborhood.” Reading the TITLE OF THE ARTICLE, its clear that the mother’s statements held little weight or validity in the eyes of The Associated Press.
Step Four: Imply that maybe it was the victim’s fault because he didn’t follow the rules? Ok, this one had me really enraged. The article explains that the boy “says” he was abducted from his elementary school “when he opened school doors for a man he thought was a parent.” It then goes on to say that,
“Only one of the schools’ set of doors is used as an entrance. Entry is gained through a buzzer on the outside of the building, and students and parents are told not to open the door for anyone.”
Right. So a 13-year-old boy thought it was okay to let someone’s dad in the building. How DARE he not understand that the rules about the doors were put in place to keep rapists from abducting children from school! This, to me, is just as bad, if not worse than statements that imply that a woman should know better than to go to a bar at 10pm by herself (and that if she does, she should be prepared to get assaulted by a cop).
Step Five (this one’s my favorite): Talk about the victim’s “personal problems” or indiscretions to solidify the doubt our rape culture so impressively promotes. In this instance, The Associated Press deemed it necessary to highlight the fact that this ELEMENTARY SCHOOL CHILD isn’t perfect. In fact,
“The 13-year-old transferred this fall to Wayne Elementary from another school in the district. Two of the boy’s aunts acknowledged Thursday that the boy has had “behavioral” issues at his new school.”
Holy shit! A 13-year-old with behavioral problems! That is unheard of! Its not like transferring schools, trying to make friends and prepare for the nightmare that is middle school are stressful things. Most 13-year-olds I know or have known are perfectly well-adjusted and never get moody or act out. It MUST mean he’s lying.
So there you have it. A simple 5 step tutorial on how to make a victim of sexualized violence into a troubled rule-breaker.
Now, as some final notes on this specific story, I want to point out the fact that the focus of the article did not seem to be on the fact that this little boy was seen “‘wobbling’ down the street about 2 p.m. Wednesday not far from the school.” Or that his neighbor asked him if he was okay because he was naked, without shoes, and only his school uniform shirt on. Or that he actually said to the neighbor, in response, that he had just been raped. No no no, the point of this article seems to be that this little boy may have known the perpetrators and that he might be damaged from this whole “alleged assault.”
That, my friends, is rape culture. And its not even the worst illustration I’ve ever seen. Indeed, victim blaming & introducing doubt are best done subtly.
* Now before anyone jumps on me for writing this piece and tells me that journalists need to be careful, cover their asses and use words like “alleged” and “claimed” to make it clear that all people are innocent until proven guilty, let’s note that the perpetrators’ names are not included in this piece, negating the need to protect their potential innocence and that, again, if this were a robbery, you wouldn’t be reading an article about the “alleged victim” of said robbery. It may identify the perpetrators as having “allegedly” committed the crime but, as this article illustrates, you won’t see a headline reading “5 allegedly robbed in Midtown.” Also, all uses of bold in quotations are my own.