28 November 2012
Here’s a radical suggestion: let’s keep all the details of rape charges private and out of the media until they have been resolved by the legal system. Because if there’s anything worse than a legal system trying to figure out the details of rape cases within the usually male-dominated sphere of the police and the law, it’s the overtly sexist media trying a rape case without any fucking evidence.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. An athlete is charged with rape, and a media outlet essentially pens a dramatic headline asking the public, “Is this Highland Park baseball star a rapist?” (Hint: no, according to the story.) The real goal of the article is to say the girl is lying, and that the male athlete is the real victim here. “If it’s a case of impulsive teenage decisions, remorse and guilt, then no one suffers more than 18-year-old Ryan Romo,” the article concludes.
Using no evidence beyond her own gut feelings, the article’s author (and CultureMap managing editor) Claire St. Amant holds forth about how “kids are supposed to mess up. They lie. They cheat. They get caught. They grow up.”
You might think that St. Amant refers to both the alleged rapist and his accuser, who is under the age of 16. But no. Apparently there’s only one kind of kid who messes up: girls.
A lot of people found this story problematic, such that a defensive St. Amant posted a follow-up story doubling down on her position. Then a freelance columnist for CultureMap named Dan Solomon posted a critical assessment of the story on his independent Tumblr — because, as he explains for XOJane, he’d like to be the kind of guy “with enough credibility to call out people who say or do fucked up things.” He wrote:
I’m embarrassed right now that my name is associated with the Culturemap brand. I’m really disappointed in St. Amant’s judgment and of Culturemap’s choice to publish such offensive — and stupid! — bullshit.
CultureMap asked him to take it down, Solomon refused, so they fired him.
Is Ryan Romo guilty or innocent? we don’t know. Was the sex between him and this under-16 girl consensual? we don’t know. That’s for the legal system to figure out.
Did his accuser lie? we don’t know. Of course we can all think of cases in which accusers have lied, but that doesn’t mean this one did. That’s for the legal system to figure out.
Let it be said that regarding rape cases, the legal system is the worst — because it’s very difficult to prove rape, and the entire process drags the accuser through a series of hoops that, frankly, resemble rape. Scrutiny of her character, her clothing, her behavior, her language. And let’s not forget the gynecological procedures that literally penetrate her in order to garner evidence, then shoot photographs. If you were younger than 16 and you had the least idea of all this invasion by the legal system, would you accuse someone of rape? If you were younger and 16 and had to be accompanied by a parent, how would you feel, going through this process? how would your parent behave toward you throughout the process? how much would you wonder whether they disbelieved you?
And that’s only the start. Then there are the shoot-from-the-hip assholes like Claire St. Amant and CultureMap, who think it’s fine to create yet another courtroom — one without any facts at all, and one in which the jury is whoever decides to log on to offer up their opinions online. But if an employee says publicly that this isn’t, ahem, cool, well — fire him/her.
So that’s why I ask for a moratorium on news about rape charges. Because the media have shown that they are incapable of behaving with any degree of journalistic integrity in reporting those charges. To the contrary, media outlets are now going out of their way to muddy the legal waters even more. In the process, they have the capacity to ruin the lives of the individuals involved.
And because, hey, they need all the decent journalists they can get — people willing to call out fucked up shit when they see it.