I typically find it really hard to keep up with a lot of what happens in the news. I don’t have any form of cable or basic channels so I can’t have the news on in the background as I get ready for work. I try to reduce the amount of paper I create in the world and therefore the Globe does not appear on my doorstep. I bike to work so I miss the Express on the T. Despite all these awesome excuses, the main reason I find it hard to keep up with the regular news outlets is because I don’t want to. I find the way that many stories are represented are unfair, slanted, leave more questions than I originally had, exploit stereotypes and biases that are rife within societies, and a whole host of other reasons. I either come away confused, disheartened, or disappointed either because of the way the story was portrayed or the way that people respond.
I do keep up on the news as best I can though. I often listen to NPR on my bike ride and catch up on my international news, the presidential race, and then other more random programs. Last week, I listened to an entire show about the melting ice caps in the Arctic Ocean and how that could impact climate on a global level – interesting stuff! However, to keep up with the news on the sexual violence front, I have had to set up Google Alerts for the terms ‘rape’ and ‘sexual assault’. Cheerful right? However, now I don’t have to go searching through endless columns in a billion different newspapers, Google brings everything to my Inbox in one neat e-mail and I can decide which ones I want to read more about. Yay technology convenience!
I have noticed something though the past week that adds to my continued disgruntled attitude towards regular news outlets and commenters. There are these stories that explode everywhere and everyone seems to have something to say. One such story was where 20 men and boys were charged with raping an 11-year old girl. Every news outlet from the NY Times and Globe to a small town Gazette reported about what happened. Many had criticisms for the males, the community, and the girl’s parents. Some, albeit fewer, even had criticisms for the way that the girl behaved in this situation. People commenting on their story expressed their concern for the girl and outrage over what had happened. Many people wrote that there was mutual responsibility for what happened, that the girl should have been more assertive, there should be no jumping to conclusions and we all must wait for the trials to find out what really happened. Another example is what recently happened in Kentucky: a teenage girl tweeted the names of her two assailants because she was upset that their sentences were so light. There was talk about how she could be brought up on charges for disobeying a court order not to release their names. There was a lot of chatter about how she ruined their lives and future by exposing their identities and actions to the Twitterverse and that action should be taken. Other people understood her outrage and supported her actions.
There are already critiques of how news outlets covered these two stories and others and how to become more trauma-sensitive when making these reports. While these are certainly problems that still need to be addressed and I could write an entire post about that, it is not what I want to focus on. My current disgruntle is caused by the fact how stories like these become huge sensations and then all of a sudden drop from the news. We rarely hear about the final outcomes of a trial (if there is one) or sanctions that someone faces from a school or employer. Most of the time a complete investigation and trial takes years from start to finish. Therefore people could forget about each individual case. News outlets move onto more current news they can sensationalize. The reports and updates about these cases are relegated to more local newspapers or may completely drop from view.
Through my Google Alerts, I have recently seen updates about how some sentences for the males involved in the TX case are starting to come down. Others are expected to enter pleas to avoid the stronger sentences a trial would bring. However, the number of people reading this story is much fewer than when it originally came out as it is ‘old news’. The comments on these stories are none to minimal in contrast to the tens to hundreds left on the earlier stories. How are people supposed to move past the belief that we all need to wait until after a trial to pass judgment and believe the survivor if that news never comes?
I am not a journalist by any means. I didn’t go to school or take classes or learn the protocol that journalists use to write their stories and reports. However, I am concerned about the lack of follow up that news sources use when reporting on sexual violence stories. It certainly doesn’t serve the survivors involved. On top of that, it doesn’t serve communities or society to have the same conversations over and over again without pushing forwards to new and more accurate views to both responding to and preventing sexual violence.