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The Dartmouth
June 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Rape image in the media

Columbia School of Journalism Professor Helen Benedict said in a speech last night that covering rape crimes is an essential duty of the press.

Benedict delivered a speech titled "Virgin or Vamp: How the Press Covers Sex Crimes" to more than 50 people in Carpenter Hall. She recently published a book with the same title.

"Rape is the fastest rising crime in America," Benedict said. There are 292 reported rape cases every day, averaging one rape every 5 minutes, according to FBI statistics cited by Benedict.

A majority of the rapists are someone the victim knows, Benedict said.

"Date rape was not invented by campus feminists nor will it be solved by wishing it away," she said.

Benedict discussed the role of the press in reporting sex crimes, and said the typical reporter employs three inter-related standards when writing about sex crimes.

The typical reporter, who Benedict said was male, inherently uses the "age-old sexist bias in the English language," the history of rape coverage, and rape myths when writing a story, she said.

"Rape victims are either characterized as 'virgins' or 'vamps' by the press," Benedict said.

When an apparently pure and innocent woman is attacked, she is deemed a "virgin," but the woman is deemed a "vamp" if she is beautiful and deviates from the traditional female sex role of staying at home, Benedict said.

"The most common rape narrative is that of a vamp," she said.

"There are 220 words in the English language to describe a promiscuous female and only 20 to describe a promiscuous male," Benedict said.

Benedict also said rape is often reported from a slanted angle.

"It is a tragedy that society defines rape from the rapist's point of view."

Benedict said the alternative press, such as the Village Voice, does a better job of covering sex crimes and rape cases.

"There is too much fear and traditionalism still in the way," Benedict said, referring to the mainstream press.

Benedict also discussed the disparity between the numbers of male and female reporters who cover stories about violent crimes against women.

She cited a 1986 case in Central Park, New York, known as the Preppie Murder case, which involved the murder of 18-year-old Jennifer Levin by her 19-year-old boyfriend. Of the reporters who covered the story, 66 were male and 21 were female, Benedict said.

Benedict also pointed out that most crime reporters tend to be white.

"In the 1989 Central Park jogging murder, 93 of the reporters were male, 21 were female and 106 of the 143 total reporters were white," she said.

But Benedict said a reporter's knowledge about rape is more important than gender or ethnicity.

Benedict said she has never met a crime reporter who has read a book about rape.

"Some of the best reporters on rape have been men and some of the worst have been women. It doesn't matter who or what you are -- it matters what you know," Benedict said.

The speech was sponsored by the Dartmouth Lawyers Association and the Women's Studies Program.