Jeffrey Goldberg on how NOT to report about rape

Jeffrey Goldberg, writing for the Atlantic, joins the cacophony of people calling out the New York Times for their rape coverage which crosses the victim blaming line again and again.

He quotes a section from a recent NYTimes piece about a rape and has this to say in response:

Does it matter that she is friendly? Does it matter that she is a good person? Does it matter that she has never been a problem? Of course not. Rape is rape. The character of the victim is irrelevant. There’s one caveat to this idea: If reporters had discovered in the woman’s past a pattern of making false accusations in criminal matters, well, then there’s a plausible argument that information about her character should be reported. Otherwise, her mood, relative-friendliness or unfriendliness, shopping habits, dietary needs — all completely immaterial.

He also makes the point that the way journalists do their reporting matters too. Who they interview for this kind of “character research” matters, even if those details never make it to print.

One more thing: Reporters should think twice about visiting the neighborhood of an alleged rape victim in order to ask questions about her life and character. The unintended consequence of such a visit is to publicize, in the place where she lives, her plight, and raise possibly-destructive questions about her situation. Newspapers withhold the names of alleged rape victims for a reason: to protect their privacy. But when reporters ask family, friends and neighbors superfluous questions about the alleged rape victim, they have outed her in the place that matters most.

(I would add that these things hold true regardless of the gender of the victim–victim-blaming crosses all lines of identity).

Journalism matters. It influences public opinion about issues like rape and the way survivors are treated. Details aren’t just details. Mentioning the outfit of an 12 year old gang rape survivor is irresponsible journalism. As Goldberg points out, questioning a victim’s character is irresponsible reporting–and so is outing her to her neighbors.

I’m glad to see people calling out big media for these wrongs, and especially glad a white male journalist is joining the chorus. We need to be calling this out from all sides.

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