Take Back the Night, Take Back the News

On Friday night around 3 am, a woman who lives on the same street corner I do was forced into her apartment at knifepoint, sexually assaulted and robbed. I live in a predominately white, wealthy neighborhood in Boston- known for beautiful brick townhouses, and the historical sites popping up every couple of cobblestone-laden blocks. Soon enough, the news teams flooded the neighborhood spouting words like “shocked”, “scared”, and “surprised” into their microphones as fast as they could. The word that they all implied, but never speak out loud, was “blame”.

On Sunday afternoon, I was stopped and asked to give a quote for an article about the attack. After my brief conversation with the Boston.com reporter, the question he’d posed lingered in my head for hours. “What will you be doing differently after this attack?”

The implication of this question is that if the young woman who has suffered this gruesome and terrifying invasion had been more aware, hadn’t been out so late, had been more prepared, etc., then this wouldn’t have happened to her. That going forward, I should take what happened to her as a lesson in the ways of the world, accept that a man could choose to violate my safety and privacy as he sees fit, and prepare myself for that possibility. As a young woman living alone in a major city, I try my best to keep myself safe. But this woman wasn’t attacked because of her lack of preparedness or vigilance. She was assaulted because a man chose to assault her.

When our news outlets and journalists portray efforts taken by potential victims as the only thing we can change in this situation, they contribute to the insidious culture of victim blaming that created Todd Akin and his “legitimate rape”. Why not report on the prevalence and incidence of sexual assaults in Boston and try to pinpoint the cultural elements behind that? Why not look further into assaults in less wealthy, less white, neighborhoods; the ones that don’t call in the local journalistic cavalry?

Because that’s hard, and victim blaming, or ignoring the problem all together, is easy.

If a woman comes home to her apartment at 3 AM, wearing a blindfold and headphones, it is still not her fault if she is sexually assaulted. The singular blame for that lies with the person who decided they were going to rape her.

The longer our mainstream media subtly and insidiously portrays women as those in control of who and who does not get raped, the longer we will live with Todd Akin and Roger Rivard. The media colors our view of the world- whether we want it to or not- and the longer they persist in victim-blaming, the longer we live in a world where one out of six American women will be raped in her life-time (National Institute of Justice & Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey. 1998.)

Christiane Amanpour said “I believe that good journalism, good television, can make the world a better place.”

Let’s demand more from our mainstream media. Let’s demand that they blame who is really at fault in the epidemic of sexual assault. Let’s hold them accountable to communities of color and women who don’t live in “nice” neighborhoods. We surely can’t go on like this- fighting against a silent tide of raised eyebrows and implied fault. I urge you to write your local papers, your university papers, your national media demanding better of them- demanding the news that you deserve, the news that address the real problem. The news that can make this world a better place.

Take back the night, take back the news.

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One Comment

  1. Posted November 13, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Julia,

    I agree with your sentiments but I am puzzled how you apportion blame to the media.

    “The word that they all implied, but never speak out loud, was “blame”.”

    Where? Why? What is so upsetting about being ‘shocked’, ‘scared’ or ‘surprised’. Aren’t those feelings to be expected? Aren’t they normal?

    Why is it wrong to imply that people will, or should, change their behavious? It is after all the most damaging aspect of criminalty; people’s behaviour does change. Whether it is justified or rational or proportionate is irrelevant; it is a fact.

    I think it is really an overreaction to read into a reporter’s legitimate enquiry so kind of conspiracy or approval of rape or assault. And I certainly do not see how it could be implied that the victim is somehow to blame. Nothing in the words used or question asked can be deemed to imply anything more than a normal line of questioning.

    I am puzzled.

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