I read a story in a newspaper a few months ago that really bothered me. The story was disturbing enough on it’s own merit, it involved a brutal sexual assault that spanned multiple hours and multiple locations. It is incomprehensible on so many levels, but what bothered me more than the content of the story itself was the journalistic slant that was taken in the article.
In our country, every person has the right under law to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Even being “caught red-handed” does not necessarily constitute being proven guilty, and so due process is allowed to run its course. When reporting activities of a criminal nature, many media sources have taken up the practice of referring to these people, presumed innocent until proven guilty, as the “alleged perpetrator” of a crime. You have undoubtedly read or heard sentences like “The alleged shooter is due to appear in court this morning…” or “police have one suspect in custody who allegedly robbed the bank.” What these statements amount to is that the person they refer to has been accused of committing an act, but that accusation has not yet been proven; the person accused may or may not have committed that act.
What disturbed me in this article I was reading was that this approach had also been extended to the victim. The author referred to the girl as the “alleged victim”, implying that somehow there was now onus on her to prove that she had in fact been assaulted. Now I get the “cry wolf” argument here, that sometimes people do in fact manufacture allegations of a crime committed against them for any number of reasons – attention, revenge, bitterness, amusement, etc. In this case though, if what was alleged to have happened did in fact happen to this person, she has a long road ahead of her towards healing and recovery, and probably doesn’t need local media trivializing her trauma by saying “She says she was assaulted but we don’t actually believe her. We’ll see what the courts say before we’ll extend her the benefit of the doubt.”