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Conversation | Blaming the Victim

Philip Kalantzis Cope

If you’ve been keeping up with local news, you probably know that two East Village police officers are on trial for rape, still on the city payroll but excused from their duties until the case is resolved. Statements made before the trial began revealed the following facts. A panicked taxi driver called police for assistance when his passenger began vomiting in the backseat of his cab. Two officers arrived to help her into her apartment. Once inside, she testified that one of the officers raped her while the other played lookout. A surveillance camera shows the two men returned to her apartment three more times that night.

What is their defense? She was too drunk to accurately recall the events that took place. The idea that behavior diminishes victimhood is a familiar one that even the New York Times perpetuated in its reporting of a Texas rape case last month.

“Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town” was the newspaper’s headline over an article that described the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl from the perspective of a battered and reeling community. Readers were asked to consider where the girl’s mother was through her child’s ordeal; what will happen to the young boys and men now accused of rape; and why this child was hanging around with older boys and dressing, as the writer put it, too old for her age. Of the victim and her future, the writer posed no questions.

The article had little time to idle on newsstands before outrage surfaced. Within 2 days, the public editor filed a response that called the story unbalanced and cited highlights from the Times initial response issued that week. This response explained that he paper did not intend to invoke victim blaming, and seemed to give the reporter his get out of jail free card. In a sentence, “They are not our reporter’s reactions, but the reactions of disbelief by townspeople over the news of a mass assault on a defenseless 11-year-old,” the statement said.

The Local isn’t suggesting that the quotes the writer chose necessarily represent his personal opinion, but that’s really beside the point. The point is, why did it go to print as an incomplete story? Why did paraphrased interviews take such a front running role in the telling of this story?

The New York Times does not make a habit of covering rapes in small towns across the country. The Times chose to cover this because it is as unusual as it is horrific. Nearly 20 individuals— children and adults— coordinated to attack a small child, and yet, the coverage makes no effort to unpack the very element that made this a New York Times story.

The article states that the events occurred around Thanksgiving. Why not wait until the rest of the story unfolded in order to pay the young victim the attention she deserves? What, The Local wonders, was the rush?

But the fact that The Times printed the story in the state it did isn’t the only source of confusion. The article suggests an entire town is rallying behind a group of gang rapists who likely destroyed a child’s life. If this perspective holds true, then the town must be subject to its own set of questions.

Both The Times article, and the local rape case, invoke judgment of a rape victim’s actions to form the basis of an assailant’s defense. They employ the familiar claim — “But she was asking for it!” No, no woman is ever asking to be raped, nor is any child.

Join the conversation: What do we as a society think about a woman’s right to her body? How do these incidents of public victim blaming effect our community?

A Few More Signposts to Guide You

LoisaidaSarah Tung

We wanted to bring your attention to four features here on the site that we think can help you learn more about what’s happening in our community.

To find the first, just look up. There, on the blue bar at the top of the page, is a new heading “News River.” It opens directly onto an aggregator of links from the East Village blogosphere that was developed by Dave Winer, a visiting scholar at NYU Journalism.

We briefly mentioned a second addition earlier this week: a series of links that provide comprehensive real estate data about the East Village. You can find them if you scroll down the column along the right side of this page or by following these links.

And directly below the real estate links in the right column is a special pull-down menu that provides test score information about public elementary and high schools that serve the East Village.

Below the schools data is the final feature that we’d like to bring to your attention: our pull-down menu of East Village restaurants drawn from data at The Times.

These are just a few more of the collaborative ways that we’re bringing value to the blogosphere through the talents of Mr. Winer and our colleagues at The Times.

About The Local East Village

YellowBuildingRachel Wise

On its face, The Local East Village is a collaborative experiment between a learning institution, the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, and a newspaper, The New York Times — but it’s much more than that.

The Local has been conceived and designed to help foster a journalistic collaboration with a third partner, our neighbors in the East Village. The site is designed to reflect our community, report on its issues and concerns, give voice to its people in a wide-reaching online public forum and create a space for our neighbors to tell stories about themselves.

Our coverage area — which extends from Broadway to the East River, 14th Street to Houston Street — is home to roughly 70,000 people and features a sturdy and robust blogosphere. What can we contribute? A healthy respect and appreciation for our neighbor blogs; the academic and intellectual resources of NYU; the vast journalistic experience and high professional standards of The Times; and a commitment to do our best to reflect the richness and texture of life in the community we share.

We hope, too, to provide innovation: For years now the lines between those who produce news and those who consume it have become increasingly blurred. And so we hope to bring our readers even more into the process of producing news in ways that few other sites have tried before.

One of those ways is through the Virtual Assignment Desk, an application produced by students at New York University and which makes its debut on this site. It is designed to provide readers with a seamless, intuitive tool for interacting with the process used in producing and shaping news. Those who use the desk can identify stories that they would like to see covered or volunteer to cover assignments themselves.

Read more…

Welcome to The Local East Village

east villageJenn Pelly The East Village.

For much of the past year, The New York Times and the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University have been working to bring you — our neighbors in the East Village — this experiment in journalistic collaboration.

As we launch The Local today, know that what you are seeing is not the culmination of that work, but rather the beginning of it. And so we start with our most important task, extending an open invitation to everyone in our community to participate in our site, which is designed to provide news, offer a forum for perspectives and opinion and promote a neighborhood-wide conversation about the issues that mean the most to us in this community.

You’ll see posts about some of those issues today — stories about culture and politics, the voices of established neighborhood institutions and those that are emerging — that will give you some idea of what we’re about as a site.

We’ll talk more about the The Local’s mission later today, but first I’d like to introduce you to some of the people behind the site and invite you to engage with us all.

I’m Rich Jones, the editor, and a former reporter at The New York Times who is now a visiting professor at NYU. I consider myself a storyteller in the tradition that puts the focus on the story and not the teller. So in the days and weeks ahead, my voice will recede from the site and be replaced by all of you telling your own stories about our community.

Some of you have already met Kim Davis, our community editor, who is an important liaison between the site and our neighbors.

Mary Ann Giordano, a deputy metro editor at The Times, is a coordinator of The Local blogs under whose guidance we will produce the site. Jim Schachter, an associate managing editor at The Times, will also play a key oversight role.

At NYU, the project has been led by Brooke Kroeger, the director of the Carter Institute, and Jay Rosen, whose students and faculty colleagues in the Studio 20 concentration, especially Jason Samuels, have played a crucial research and development role in laying the foundation for the site.

Many of the posts will be contributed by the students in the Hyperlocal News class, which is led by Yvonne Latty, Mary Quigley and Darragh Worland, and recognition should be given to the support provided by the larger community at NYU, including students, professors and administrators in journalism, at the Stern School of Business, at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at the Tisch School of the Arts, as well as from our deans of the Faculty of Arts and Science, Jess Benhabib and Dalton Conley. The project has also benefitted from the good offices of NYU Provost David McLaughlin and President John Sexton.

And, of course, I must acknowledge the most significant ingredient in our collaboration — you. Ours is one of the most distinct neighborhoods in New York — full of color and energy, heart-wrenching sadness and unexpected humor and uncommon grace. In other words, it is a wonderful place for us to tell stories.

Let’s all get to work.