Respect of Victim Leads to Loss of Narrative

By Tonya B. Lewis

In the reviewing more than 50 news articles on the Steubenville rape case coverage in national and local media, a clear pattern seems to emerge–the loss of the victim’s narrative.

With the media’s policy of respecting rape victim’s privacy there comes an unforeseen consequence–the omittance of the victim’s story. What are her hopes, dreams and aspirations. Is she a good student that enjoys playing soccer? Is she a devoted mother, a doting aunt or a loving daughter?

The victim’s story is often overlooked while the details of her abuse is spread to national and in some cases, international audiences. The public is privy to her pain. Her rape becomes fodder for talk shows and pundits.  She is lambasted by critics who blame her for being raped.

Football Players Rape Charges

Protestors assemble in support of the Steubenville victim.

Even those that mean her well can do her harm. For instance, in the Steubenville rape case, members of Anonymous, a hacker collective, tried to hold the rapists accountable and published sensitive, unredacted documents that accidentally revealed the victim’s name to the world.

In the absence of the rape victim’s narrative, the story of her attackers becomes the lead. In the case of the Steubenville rape, the perpetrators were “star” football players with “promising futures.” Members of the media lamented the loss of the boy’s football career and their missed opportunities. (Check out ABC News’ story, Steubenville: After the Party’s Over.)

Trent Mays, Ma'lik Richmond

Trent Mays, 16, and Ma’lik Richmond, 17, at their defense trial for the rape of a 16-year-old girl.

This duality has revealed itself in the various articles I have analyzed for our Steubenville team research paper. Many of the news stories that mentioned the Steubenville rapists (they were convicted in juvenile court) also mentioned their athleticism and that they were star football players, big contributors to a powerhouse football program.  While that is not necessarily bad, it skews the story to one more focused on the rapists. The victim is reduced to–in this case–a “16-year-old girl,” the “Weirton, W. Va. girl”, a drunken “brunette.”I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the role of social media in this case. If it had not been for the teen’s who were involved in and were witnesses of the rape, there would have never been a case. It was the posting of images and videos on YouTube and Twitter that alerted the victim and law enforcement to the rape. It was the thousands of “profane and ugly” text messages volleyed between the rapists, victim, witnesses and schoolmates that created a detailed account of the events on the night of Aug. 11, 2012.  As the victim’s mother’s said to the defendants during trial, “You were your own accuser, through social media.”

More chargesThis is an age were teens share much of their lives  publically. Yes, I am still baffled as to why they felt it was acceptable to share such information online. Why was it okay to record, document and publish a girl’s rape? But, I’m glad they did, if not the rapists would have never been held accountable. And, the story isn’t over. Additional people could face charges in the case.

As we prepare to solidify our research findings, I realize the issue of rape in a small, Ohio town is more than an interesting story. These are real people who have been greatly affected by rape. Throughout the process of doing this paper, I have learned a great deal about what constitutes rape, what fair and balanced news coverage should look like and how to code (which is just as hard and time consuming as I initially thought). I am looking forward to presenting our research findings.

Steubenville Rape Case: Research and Discovery

By Tonya B. Lewis

As part of my Theory of Mass Communication’s class team paper on the Steubenville rape case, we are conducting a content analysis and reviewing print and online articles and broadcast transcripts (if we can find them). In the process of preparing a codebook (see my blog post, Abstracts, Lit. Reviews and Methods…Oh, My!), we have begun to read a sample of articles. This preliminary research has led to some discoveries of my personal, internal conflict with the case.

Conflict (Discovery)
The idea of rape is repulsive. But, what happens when the word “rape” is not used? Does “molestation” incite the same feelings of disgust? Does that euphemism take the sting out of the act? Should there be a clear distinction between rape and molestation? All of these questions have been posed in my mind while reading the accounts of the Steubenville rape case.

Mays and Richmond

Trent Mays (left) and Ma’lik Richmond (right) at their rape trial.

The victim in the case was digitally penetration (I admit I had to look that up to understand it.) by the perpetrators, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond. But, there was no sexual intercourse. When I read these accounts, the word I first thought of was “molestation” and not rape. Was my ignorance due to what I was taught or read over the years in media reports of sex crimes? Or, has the definition simply changed and evolved over the years?In a 2005 journal article, researchers Paul Mason and Jane Monckton-Smith write that the public perception of “real rape” is that it “is perpetrated by a stranger and involves aggravating violence.” I think that attitude is changing.

Footage from the night of the Steubenville rape that was shared on social media that ultimately alerted the victim of the assault that occurred. These images and video where later used by police as evidence.

Footage from the night of the Steubenville rape that was shared on social media that ultimately alerted the victim of the assault that occurred. These images and video where later used by police as evidence.

In Ohio, there is no ambiguity in what constitutes rape. Digital penetration is rape. According to media reports and social media posts, the perpetrators, and many of the other teenagers present during the assault definitely knew it was rape. A YouTube video (ABC News story) showed students laughing saying that the victim was “so raped.” Bottomline: Whether it’s rape or molestation, it’s wrong.

Coding (Research)
Reading these articles trying to detect the use of frames is proving to be a little more difficult than I initially anticipated. A judgement call between facts/statements vs. opinions must be for each article and correlated with other’s assessments of the article (i.e., coding). We still have work to do, but I think that refining our codebook along with our professor’s, Dr. Moody, review of the few articles we have coded, will help us refine our technique.

Additionally, our research team knows there are numerous, if not, hundreds, of articles on the Steubenville rape case but many seem to be lacking from databases. We have to create a formal way for others to find those article in the event that someone wants to replicate the study. In essence, this means there is potentially a great deal of articles that we will not be able to review, code and ultimately, include in our study. It is my hypothesis that framing is prevalent in coverage of the rape, and I am concerned that the articles, or lack thereof, will not exhibit or demonstrate the existence of frames. Or, that the dearth of articles will present inaccurate, incomplete or inadequate findings. I know every research study has limitations, and I don’t want this to be a major one for our research.

A part of me hopes that there are not many frames present in media coverage for the victim or the perpetrators. This would mean that journalists have gotten better at covering rape stories and eliminating some of the bias from their stories that maybe the journalism tenet of objectivity is not only real, but being adhered to. That may sound very idyllic, but keep in mind that I view every glass more than half full, wish unicorns were real and have been known to wish upon a star…

Research: A Graduate Student’s Perspective

By Tonya B. Lewis

In this week’s Theory of Mass Communication class, international journalism graduate student, Savanah Landerholm spoke about the research project she conducted in the Research Methods in Mass Communication class last year.

The Research
Apple TVAfter receiving  an Apple TV device with the purchase of a laptop and seeing a gap in the scholarly literature on the topic, Savanah decided to conduct her research on the device.  Savanah’s project focused on the emerging use of Apple TV, which allows users to stream photos, music, movies and TV  seamlessly on their television using their mobile device, laptop or tablet. For the basis of her project, Savanah combined lens of uses and gratification theory in an effort to gauge users satisfaction and various uses of Apple TV. She employed a six-person focus group who were rewarded with food for their participation.

Savanah Landerholm, Michelle Rava, Mia Moody-Ramirez, Ph.D., Liz Cohen, Claire Fournon and Danielle Brown presented their research at the 2013 AEJMC Midwinter Conference in Norman, Okla.

Savanah Landerholm, Michelle Rava, Mia Moody-Ramirez, Ph.D., Liz Cohen, Claire Fournon and Danielle Brown presented their research at the 2013 AEJMC Midwinter Conference in Norman, Okla.

From her study, she was able to deduce that Apple TV owners used their devices for five specific reasons such as for entertainment, convenience, cost-effectiveness, brand loyalty and because it was cutting edge. Savanah also noted that most people used their device for two to three hours a day. She was able to present her findings at the 2013 Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication’s  Midwinter Conference.

My Thoughts

As I sat listening to Savanah recount her research, methods and findings, I gained more clarity on how to conduct legitimate research.  It was great to hear about research from a current graduate student’s perspective. Hearing her recall how she recruited participants and how she brainstormed to develop her research idea, I believe will prove useful as I gear up for my research. Her topic opened my mind up to other research possibilities and interests, and it inspired and encouraged me  to submit my own research article to a journal once it is completed. It’s one thing to read an ambiguous textbook or journal article on theories and research and then to hear firsthand from someone who completed their  project well. It makes a lasting impression.

I found Savanah’s presentation very interesting, and I loved the discourse it stimulated in the classroom. (By the way, I am debating on buying an Apple TV device this weekend.) As someone who enjoys learning about new technology and its uses, her topic had me engaged. I hope to engender the same types of reactions to my research one day.

Team Work: Studying the Steubenville High School Rape Case

A photo montage of various TV interviews where the subjects express sympathy for the Steubenville rapists and not for their 16-year-old victim.

A photo montage of various TV interviews where the subjects express sympathy for the Steubenville rapists and not for their 16-year-old victim.

By Tonya B. Lewis

This semester, my Theory of Mass Communication class will work together and explore framing of the Steubenville rape case by analyzing print, broadcast and online publications.

The team paper is a collaboration between Mia Moody-Ramirez, Ph.D., Sara Stone, Ph.D. and this year’s journalism graduate student cohort.

The Project
The preliminary framework for the paper has been outlined. Although, it is early in the process, I believe a solid, analytical paper has been created that will further scholarship and add to the existing body of work in the area of framing, especially dealing with rape, gender issues and race.

Tweet of CNN Coverage

The public used social media to openly chastise media outlets for coverage of the Steubenville rape case.

Personally, I am excited about the opportunity to contribute to such a paper on a topic that I feel personally connected. With the increase of rape cases, most notably, a similar case at Vanderbilt University, there is a need to examine the media’s coverage of the issue. For instance, in the case, of an 11-year-old rape victim in Cleveland, Texas, the media’s coverage, specifically The New York Times framing of the case, ignited furor leading to the media becoming part of the story. This example underscores the need for more research on the media’s coverage of rape cases. As part of the research, I will be responsible for reviewing print media, and I am curious to see what trends, patterns and frames emerge. Currently, the research focuses on three frames associated with rape and violence towards women-“victim blaming, mob mentality (hypermasculinity) and race.” We need to incorporate additional research studies in the three areas to discover what has been the consistently evident in media coverage.

Footage from the night of the Steubenville rape that was shared on social media that ultimately alerted the victim of the assault that occurred. These images and video where later used by police as evidence.

Footage from the night of the Steubenville rape that was shared on social media that ultimately alerted the victim of the assault that occurred. These images and video where later used by police as evidence.

Thoughts of the Victim
In reading all of the literature and coverage of the Steubenville rape case, I cannot help but wonder about the 16-year-old victim. She has been criticized by the public, has seen images of her rape casually shared via text message and email like a friendly emoticon and has been mostly marginalized and omitted in most media coverage.  I wonder if she knew about our study, what would she think? What sort of emotions would it conjure for her? Would she hope that our findings would change how rape and rape victims are covered in the news?  Does she even care? Or,  has she just simply tried to move forward and focus on her future?

As for me, I hope this research is celebrated for its scholarly contribution to academia, but more importantly, I hope it causes members of the media to be conscious of what and how they report on rape cases.

Privacy, Rape and the Media

By: Tonya B. Lewis

Sara Stone, Ph.D., interim chair of the journalism, public relations and new media department spoke to my Theory of Mass Communication class today and delved into privacy issues, ethics and the media using examples of various rape cases in the United States and India.

The Media’s Responsibility in Covering Rape Cases
As part of Dr. Stone’s facilitated discussion, she provided several articles for us to review. A quote from one editorial said:

Unlike in India, [U.S.] media is not talking about the ‘why.’ Why are there systems in place that allow rape to be committed over and over again in this country? Why are boys raised to think that rape with an unconscious woman can possibly be considered sex?”

Dr. Stone poised a provocative question: Is it true that American boys are raised this way?

To which (each in our own way), we vehemently replied, “No!” But, the class admitted that a mob mentality coupled with alcohol and immaturity can create a volatile mix.

Protestors create signs advocating for the end of violence against women in New Delhi, India.

Protestors create signs advocating for the end of violence against women in New Delhi, India.

One article we read provided several tips to journalists covering rape cases that I found very poignant. Senior faculty member at Poynter Al Tompkins quoted Poytner’s Kelly McBride who advised journalists to “use clear language when reporting on a rape” as to avoid “sanitizing the language” by treating victims as “actors.” Tompkins writes, “We say, for instance, that a young girl ‘performed an oral sex act,’ rather than: ‘He forced his genitals into her mouth.'” In Tompkins example, the first description makes it sound as if the victim is a willing participant who chose to act or perform versus being forced into an act against her will.

I found this nugget of information from McBride to be one of the most important factors for journalists to consider when reporting on rape cases. We tend to prefer euphemism to harsh truths, and I think that unintentionally it helps to foster and cultivate a rape culture that send the message that rape isn’t that bad, especially if it wasn’t a “violent” rape. It’s not that I want the horrid details of a rape laid out in black-and-white on the front page of the news. I just want rape to be referred to properly and not with some watered down language such as assault, “digital penetration,” sex without consent, or sexual intercourse.

McBride also warns journalists against victim blaming, providing “salacious details about sexual assaults” and describing non-consensual sex as rape.

Protesters, who did not want to be identified, hold signs outside of the Jefferson County Justice Center and Jail in Steubenville, Ohio, on Wednesday, March 13, 2013.  About 20 other demonstrators stood outside the justice center with signs and masks protesting the rape trial of Trent Mays, 17, and Ma'lik Richmond, 16, accused of of raping a 16-year-old West Virginia girl in August of 2012. (AP Photo/The Plain Dealer, Lisa DeJong)

Protesters, who did not want to be identified, hold signs outside of the Jefferson County Justice Center and Jail in Steubenville, Ohio, on Wednesday, March 13, 2013. About 20 other demonstrators stood outside the justice center with signs and masks protesting the rape trial of Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’lik Richmond, 16, accused of of raping a 16-year-old West Virginia girl in August of 2012. (AP Photo/The Plain Dealer, Lisa DeJong)

Ethics and Privacy
In this day in age with power of social media, Dr. Stone contends that there is no such thing as privacy anymore, and I tend to agree. On a whim, people can take information and pictures and share it quickly and publicly. After all, it was videos and images shared on social media that alerted the Steubenville victim and her parents of her rape, which helped them have evidence to present to police.

New Delhi vs. Steubenville
In a Poynter article titled, “Why journalists are covering rapes differently in New Delhi & Steubenville,” Mallary Jean Tenore examines our outrage over the vicious attack against a young woman in New Delhi juxtaposed against our sympathizing with the attackers of the 16-year-old girl in Steubenville. Tenore also examines the portrayal of the victims. The woman in New Delhi was humanized and her narrative included “what her hopes and aspirations were, what she had accomplished at a young age, and how hard she worked to pay for her education.” The media coverage of the Ohio teen focused on what happened to her and “less on who she is as a person.”

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Abstracts, Lit. Reviews and Methods…Oh, My!

By: Tonya B. Lewis

New [nyoo]: adjective
1. unfamiliar or strange (often followed by to ): ideas new to us; to visit new lands.
2. having but lately come to a place, position, status, etc.:

Graduate School [graj-oo-it] / [skool]: adjective/ noun
1. An institution or program that you can’t believe you voluntarily signed up for.

Research [ri-surch or ree-surch]: noun
1. diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject in order to discover or revise facts, theories, applications;

2. something you can’t believe that you’re supposed to learn, do well and get published, especially when you just learned how to search for e-journals and thought APA was like a 2013 spin on Naughty By Nature’s “OPP” song. (Hmmm)

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