A response from Sondra Miller to the question, “Is intoxication a detail we should report in rape cases?”
April 14 2021
Earlier this week, Chris Quinn, editor of Cleveland.com, wrote an op-ed titled, “Is intoxication a detail we should report in rape cases?”
The answer is no.
And Cleveland Rape Crisis Center stands behind the sentiments of the rape survivor who raised this question. She has already articulated that the decision to report that two women were intoxicated at the time they were raped:
- Does not give any leverage to the story
- Can lead readers to blame the victims
- Caused her more hurt
Said another way, this reporting re-traumatized the survivor at the center of the story.
Place the blame where it belongs – on the perpetrator.
Rape culture teaches women and survivors that it is their responsibility to avoid being sexually assaulted and abused. We are instructed to avoid being alone, not to drink too much, to carry pepper spray, to always communicate with others about where we’re going.
Women have tried all of these precautions for generations and yet, we have not stopped rape.
Yes, women should know there is a risk of rape if we choose to go downtown (or anywhere). Yes, there is a risk of rape if we drink with our friends. Yes, there is a risk of rape if we are up too late or walking somewhere with questionable safety. One could conclude that the risk of rape is so great that we should just stay home.
The problem with staying home is that the most prevalent location where rapes occur is inside the victim’s home. Yes, the risk of being raped is always there, no matter where we go, what we do or what precautions we take.
This misplaced blame is one of the reasons why nearly two-thirds of rapes are never reported to police. Many survivors don’t come forward because they fear they won’t be believed, they are too ashamed, or they think the abuse was their fault.
Including the detail of a survivor’s intoxication in a news article perpetuates this idea. It opens the door to place blame on the survivor, instead of where it belongs – on the perpetrator.
Survivors are reading these stories. And they deserve better.
Many Cleveland.com readers have experienced sexual violence. In fact, one in four women and at least one in 71 men in Ohio will experience sexual assault in their lifetimes. The rates are even higher for communities that are marginalized (including people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and immigrants).
When survivors read details, like a victim’s intoxication, that could be used to discredit a survivor’s story, it could trigger those feelings of self-blame.
The truth is, sexual assault is never the survivor’s fault.
So, how can reporters responsibly cover rape cases?
When reporting on rape cases, the story should be survivor-centered and offender-focused. What does that look like?
- Focusing on the choice of the perpetrator to take advantage of the victim’s vulnerabilities, not the actions of the survivors
- Understanding that perpetrators are often are repeat offenders, commit other crimes and are practiced liars and evade detection through deception and manipulation
- Including resources, like the 24/7 Crisis & Support Hotline and local services for survivors of sexual violence who may be reading
- Seeking to minimize the re-traumatization of survivors who not only have experienced sexual violence, but may also have their trauma scrutinized by friends, family, and law enforcement
- Listening to survivors who reach out to offer feedback
Let’s continue the conversation and advocate for survivors of rape and sexual abuse.
In recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April, we’re extending an invitation to reporters, editors, and anyone else to join Cleveland Rape Crisis Center for a virtual Ambassador Training Workshop on April 20. In this workshop, we will talk about what victim-blaming looks like, and how we can support the survivors in our own lives.
If you’re inspired, we ask that you to share your thoughts with Chris Quinn at firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope that Cleveland.com can create a victim-centered, trauma-informed policy that does not include reporting whether a survivor had been drinking at the time someone chose to rape them.