Back in August 2012 two teenage boys publicly raped an overly intoxicated 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio.
Back in August 2012, this news did not reach my ears here in Edmonton, Alberta. Why is this? Because rape isn’t newsworthy.
To be newsworthy a story must contain at LEAST one of the following attributes:
- human interest
Because rape is so common, it has effectively become “old news;” not timely no matter when it occurs. For this same reason, rape has also lost its shock-value (or oddity) and human interest. On any given weekend in North America, adults and teenager get drunk, and often (more often than we would probably like to believe) there are resulting victims of rape. This story held proximity for the residents of Steubenville, but beyond that the story held no proximity for the rest of the world. Though both the rape victim and charged rapists are now well known to the public, back in August of 2012, they were not prominent figures in society. Up until recently, there was no conflict about the fact that rapist should face the consequence of being brought to justice.
The story didn’t realty hit the mainstream media with full force until the trail verdict was announced in March 2013, and now, the story is still making waves.
Why is the story suddenly newsworthy? Because of the way media treated their coverage of the trail and verdict.
Click HERE to view footage of the courtroom at the time of the verdict.
Rather than showing due sympathy for the rape victim in this case, multiple news sources including, but not limited to, CNN, ABC and NBC showed strong sympathy for 17-year-old Trent Mays and 16-year-old Ma’lik Richmond having been charged and convicted as sex offenders. After the verdict, the media was alight with sympathy for these two young men whose futures were ruined. Emphasis was placed on the punishment for the crime, and not on the brutality of the crime itself or its victim.
At this point the story became newsworthy on multiple levels. The story, after a long build up broke fast; it was timely. This case was highly publicized in social media as far back as August 2012. Pictures and screen caps of text messages that were sent while the crime was taking place made there way online almost immediately, rumors sprung up about possible conspiracies to protect other individuals who may have also been involved in this crime, and the victim herself was threatened with violence and even death on Twitter. By the time the verdict was announced, and the media had time to react as they did, both the victim and the perpetrators in this crime had achieved a certain amount of celebrity (or prominence). The dramatic and emotional reactions from the courtroom portrayed a strong element of human interest. And, the reaction of the media was not only odd, but also very controversial. As a result many media outlets faced the consequence of being publicly shamed all over the Internet and on social media and many apologized for their reaction.
Rape is a terrible thing. There is no question about that. It is a fact. No mean no, and as in the case of Steubenville, Ohio were a victim was too drunk to say no, a “no” was (and must be) implied. It is sad that we live in a world where rape is so common that it is no longer newsworthy, but perhaps this case, and the eventual media coverage that followed it will remind us of what it right and what is very wrong. Perhaps the verdicts and media coverage that resulted in this case will begin to change behavious. We can only hope.