Dear @LATimes, Infants Don’t Have Sex | #RapeCulture and the Media on Blog#42

Dea @LATimes: Sex And Child Rape Are Not Interchangeable

On Saturday, April 22nd, the Los Angeles Times ran a story about a Navy Seal who was caught with various types of pornography. This is how they posted the story on Facebook:

The sentence above the headline is taken directly from the first paragraph of the article.

Helpless infants don’t have sex. This baby was raped. Helpless animals don’t have sex with infants. This animal was put up to it by a sick individual who is now in the custody of military police. Describing what is on video in terms of sex perpetuates a rape culture that is very deeply ingrained in American society – so much so, that a journalist wrote “infant having sex with a dog,” and absolutely no one, including the writer, thought to change it.

Sex is an act between two consenting adults. Anything else, especially when we are talking about a child, is an act of violence and that act has a name: rape.

The sight of this misrepresentation is offensive. Since the article contains descriptions of sexual violence, a warning to readers should have been issued. There was none. Moreover, whoever posted the story on Facebook used the most salacious sentence in the article to attract readers, without regard for who might be browsing their Facebook timeline.

The Los Angeles Times has editors and, presumably, senior editors whose job it is to set a certain standard when covering news stories of this type. This article should not have been published without correcting the language used in it. There is no excuse for this kind gross error. ‘Infant’ followed by sex in the same sentence should have caught someone’s attention. The Los Angeles Times should immediately review the article, make the appropriate changes and issue a public apology.

Son of Baldwin, writer Robert Jones, Jr., when discussing matters that might trigger or offend, meticulously prefaces his posts on his Facebook page with warnings to his readers. This is an example from a post he made last week about a story from the Washington Post:

“This story contains graphic descriptions of child abuse, rape, rape culture, and sex trafficking. Discretion is advised.”

The L.A. Times and Washington Post would do well to follow his example.

The post on Son of Baldwin‘s page illustrates yet another way in which sexual abuse is described using language that is inappropriate.

Son of Baldwin is absolutely right and ‘rape’ should have been the term used instead of ‘forced to have sex.’ It is particularly disappointing that no one at WaPo flagged this before publication. Trafficked or not, under the law, 14 year olds don’t have consensual sex with grown men. They are raped.

It doesn’t take a great deal of effort to use the proper language to describe specific situations. It shouldn’t take an extraordinary amount of effort on the part of any newspaper, big or small, to treat rape victims with respect and use appropriate language to describe sex crimes.  Both Carl Prine and Samantha Schmidt should have learned how to write about rape somewhere in between college and their first jobs as reporters. Failing that, both newspapers are widely circulated and prestigious enough that they should enforce strict writing and editing standards. Rape and sex are not interchangeable, and it shouldn’t take sensitivity training for journalists and editors to tighten up quality control.

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