Monday, May 10, 2010
Guest Post: Rethinking the Word Accuser
Today we have a special guest post from one of our fabulous medical advocates, Kelly!
Lately, it seems my world as a rape crisis counselor and my boyfriend’s world as an avid sports fan have collided. I have been known to suffer through a Bruins game or Sportscenter episode in the spirit of compromise, but lately my other half has not had to bug me to listen to 98.5 The Sports Hub or watch ESPN. The recent high profile cases involving athletes “allegedly” raping young women has had me interested in hearing how sports reporters and commentators would report these stories and what kind of biases or rape myths may be included in their coverage.
I am happy to say that I have been surprised and humbled to see that many reporters have handled these stories in a way that I find commendable, while others, well…let’s just say some journalists could use a BARCC workshop or two.
However, I’d like to focus on the positive. Recently on a drive into school, I felt compelled to call into the Felger & Massarotti show on 98.5 after listening to a discussion of the most recent Ben Roethlisberger sexual assault case. These guys were blunt. They were not making any excuses for “Big Ben.” Just because he is a talented quarterback does not give him a free pass to rape women. Just because he has money does not mean women would falsely accuse him of rape for publicity (who would want that kind of publicity?) or financial gain (as a medical advocate I can assure you that the lengthy and invasive sexual assault evidence collection kit is not something you submit to without good reason). I called in and told them I am happy for once not to hear victim-blaming or unnecessary references to the survivor’s level of intoxication.
One word that makes me cringe when hearing about cases of rape in the media is the word “accuser.” I think this word unnecessarily shifts the focus from the actions of the perpetrator to the survivor. As an “accuser,” the survivor is now the one who is doing something to the perpetrator, not the one who has had something done to them. While for legal purposes journalists may have to stay more neutral than using the word survivor, why not try “alleged victim.” It is a subtle thing that can make a really big difference.
Tonight my boyfriend mentioned to me that a discussion about the word “accuser” occurred on Sportscenter. I haven’t been able to see it yet, but from what he told me it was really promising, and I hope that more stations will think twice before using that language. The fact it is even being discussed at all says something.
Over the past couple of days I have also heard conversations on various sports media about Lawrence Taylor’s (former NFL star) charges of raping a 16 year-old-girl. One commentator suggested we not refer to his victim as a prostitute, as she is 16 and that is actually considered sex trafficking, not prostitution. Another mentioned that regardless of whether or not he paid for sex, she is underage and that is rape. Kind of seems like common sense, but you’d be surprised.
I hope that these conversations in the media will continue to address the fact that a rapist can be anybody, even a seemingly nice guy who happens to be able to throw a football like Roethlisberger or a hall of famer/Dancing with the Stars alum like Taylor. I hope that more and more people realize talent, no matter how great, does not mean rape is excusable (cough cough Kobe Bryant). I hope that the focus is steered away from survivors and their clothing, behavior, and alcohol-intake. I hope that more and more people continue to get educated about rape myths and their huge and devastating effects on survivors of sexual assault. I hope that there is no more rape.
But we can at least start with not using the word accuser anymore (are you listening, Larry King?).
Related: Tommy’s post on sportswriters and the Roethlisberger case.