The home page for my browser shows the news feed for Yahoo News. Imagine my shock when a front page story’s headline talked of the family of a victim of an “alleged rape” filing a civil lawsuit for wrongful death against the suspects after she had committed suicide. Luckily the article wasn’t a news report but a blog post about a news story because this was an excellent example of how not to write a news story about rape.
Here is a screen capture of the headline that shocked me:
The headline was changed after the story was published but even in the text you can see a problem:
The family of Audrie Pott, the 15-year-old girl who killed herself after learning she was allegedly raped by schoolmates at a party in September, has directed its lawyer to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the three 16-year-old boys accused of assaulting her.
“We intend to prove in a court of law that her death was related to what they did,” attorney Bob Allard told Yahoo! News on Sunday.
Allard said the decision was precipitated by comments made by the defendants’ lawyers over the weekend, in which they said the boys should be “regarded as innocent.” They further advised the public to reserve judgment about the case.
Police say Pott was assaulted at a party by schoolmates at a house near San Jose, Calif. while she was passed out. Eight days later, Allard says Pott learned photos had been taken of the alleged assault, and shared on social media. “Worst day ever,” Pott wrote on her Facebook page. She then hanged herself.
“There’s no doubt that the combination of the assault and the torture by cyberbullying caused Audrie to end her life,” Allard told Yahoo! News Friday.
My problem is with framing the story as an “alleged rape” while nothing is mentioned about the boys arrested being “alleged rapists” or even mentioned as suspects.
The framing of the story victimizes the girl again because it sounds like there is some question about what happened. There’s isn’t. She was assaulted and a picture was posted on the Internet. In this case the victim killed herself rather than deal the trauma.
I agree that people are innocent until proved guilty but again my issue is the tone of the story. It is weighted toward the boys and dismissive of the assault on the girl.
How should the post have been written?
The original headline that was changed should have been written this way:
Family of assault victim to file wrongful death suit
And the text of the post should remove any form of “alleged rape” and to make sure to mention the boys arrested were “alleged rapists” or the very least suspects.
The Yahoo News blog post is a prime example of how NOT to write a story about rape.