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Category: Media, Violence against Women

Activists Battle Victim-Blaming Coverage of NYPD Rape Trial After Acquittal of Officers

| June 1, 2011

The woman who accused two NYPD officers of rape today released a statement expressing her devastation at Friday’s verdict of not-guilty, adding, “everything they say about the difficulties of a rape trial is sadly true…you are tested beyond what any crime victim should have to endure."

While the trial uncovered instances of misconduct by the on-duty two cops, including confessing to “cuddling” in bed with the intoxicated woman, it also subjected the woman’s private life to widespread scrutiny and victim-blaming attacks. The website TMZ violated the privacy of the alleged victim by publishing her photograph, inviting inappropriate comments. The New York Daily News published a description of the woman as “bombed and blacked-out”.  Blogger Jessica Varlese also points out that even the New York Times "spent about nine paragraphs describing how drunk the woman was and whether or not she had an alcohol problem."

As Jamia Wilson, Vice President of Programs at WMC explained to Ms. Magazine, “no matter what your behavior is, no matter how drunk you are, you shouldn’t call 911 and be assaulted." Yet, as is often the case, the woman’s drinking and conduct on the night in question have been attacked as character failings in the media,  implying that her testimony is untrustworthy. Such coverage reinforces the concept of "deserving" and "undeserving" victims, and discourages the reporting of sexual assaults due to fear of moral judgment.

Despite research that shows false accusations of rape are extremely rare, and Officer Moreno’s confession to falsifying a 911 call in order to return to the woman’s apartment multiple times, it is nevertheless the victim that was criticized for not providing a stronger case. The NY Daily News ran a story characterizing the woman as "emotional" at trial, but lacking substantive news about the case. The same story ran a quote from one of the officers claiming she invented the whole story. Additionally, the officers mounted a defense that rested in part on allegations that it was the woman who ‘asked for it’. They claim to have fended off advances from her in her apartment, and explained their recorded admission that they “used a condom” by protesting they just told her what she wanted to hear.

Thankfully, activists are keeping this story front and center.  WMC's Progressive Women's Voices alumni Shelby Knox of Change.org is calling for NYPD officers to be trained on sexual assault, and a juror who spoke with Women's enews is questioning the handling of the rape evidence, affecting her decision.  Hundreds of protesters turned to the streets in New York on Friday night to protest the verdict and march in solidarity with the accuser.

As the woman's statement concluded, "public opinion will be the ultimate verdict." And how is public opinion shaped? By the media.

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