Apparently as a society we have devolved into a culture that labels our children that report being sexually assaulted “accusers”. How long will it take for the news media to quit using language to describe sexual assault that is totally dismissive of victims and supportive of offenders? It’s broadly known as victim blaming. Make it the victim’s fault and show what a great guy the offender is and always use language that softens the seriousness of the crime.
This week marked the conclusion of the trial of Owen Labrie in Concord, New Hampshire. He was accused of raping a fellow student when he was 18 and she was 15. Evidently at St. Paul’s Prep School there is a tradition called “Senior Salute” where senior boys try to take the virginity of freshman girls. Now if that is not predatory behavior I don’t know what is!
In reporting this story two CNN reporters, Aaron Cooper and Boris Sanchez labeled the 15 year old victim an accuser, not once, not twice, but six times! Virtually every time they spoke of her it was “the accuser.” I would like to ask Mr. Cooper, Mr. Sanchez, and the leadership at CNN News, at what point does someone become a victim in your minds? God forbid, but if your son or daughter were raped would you call them an accuser? Or would you hold and rock your baby as they cried away their fear and shame after surviving such a vile indignity?
The term of “accuser” used for a victim of sexual assault was brought into common usage in 2004 in the rape trial of Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant. His lawyers made sure that label was used in every article and interview when describing Bryant’s alleged victims. It was a defense tactic to put the victim of a crime in a bad light and to create doubt.
There is no other crime where the reporting alleged victim is referred to as an accuser. I find it quite curious that as a culture we work so hard to discredit victims of sexual violence above any other crime. As in the case of Kobe Bryant the victim was put on trial here. This 16 year old victim was on the stand for an entire day defending herself.
At the same time it is quite interesting to note how much energy is put into showing what great guys the accused offenders are. In this article, the now convicted perpetrator is quoted as saying “I tried to be as polite as possible.” Oh, and he always carried a condom, as if that is some kind of evidence he is not a sexual predator.
In fairness to CNN News I found the term accuser used to describe this 16 year old rape victim on NBC News, People.com, NY Daily News, ABC News, The Washington Post and the NY Times. I’m sure there are many more. One would think the NY Times would know better after the reaction they got in 2011 for reporting that an 11 year old victim of gang rape in Texas by 18 men, “they said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said.” And then as if the perpetrators were duped by the child they asked “how could their young men have been drawn into such an act?”
After the jury’s verdict Friday, CNN’s Aaron Cooper and Boris Sanchez titled their article “Former prep school student acquitted of felony rape in split verdict.” As a point of fact, he was acquitted of felony rape. He was convicted of three counts of misdemeanor sexual assault, using a computer to lure a minor for sex (a felony), and child endangerment. The only news source I found that used the words “convicted of sex charges” was ABC News. Every other news source I checked used the word “acquitted.”
If this situation is ever going to change, every one of us must speak up when we see reporting of sex crimes that minimizes the severity of the crime or attempts to blame the victim. When the victims are named accusers or descriptive words are used like affair, relationship, fondle, inappropriate touch etc. when referring to rape or child sex abuse, call the authors on it. We must change our system of victim blaming and it is up to you and me to see that happens.
The CNN article as it originally appeared has been edited and a few of the more blatant offensive lines have been removed. In the future I will print the original.