Rape Coverage and The New York Times‘ Daddy Issues
I really appreciated this recent New York Times piece detailing the ways in which New York City police fail to adequately respond to rape reports. I also appreciated its companion story, which highlighted the experiences of four women who reported their rapes to the police, only to have their cases dismissed, their assaults downplayed, and their stories disbelieved by the cops. I was less impressed by the way John Eligon chose to describe the fourth victim in the story:
Eligon begins by recounting the woman's assault, and its aftermath:
Elizabeth Pressman recalled sitting in her bedroom last year drinking tea and chatting with an acquaintance of 20 years when he snapped. The man began choking her, trying to force her to perform oral sex and shoving his fist in her mouth, she said.
Somewhat in shock the following evening, Ms. Pressman, 51, said she let the man back into her apartment to pick up belongings he had left there. He attacked her a second time, she said. The next day, she went to a hospital and reported the attacks to the police.
Ms. Pressman, a news researcher who formerly worked for The Times, said the officers who interviewed her at the hospital had told her that because she had invited the man in, it would be a “he said, she said” situation and that she did not have a case.
The matter was referred to a detective, who interrogated her, Ms. Pressman said. After she described what had happened, Ms. Pressman said, the detective told her, “Sounds like rough sex gone awry.”
Manhattan prosecutors eventually determined that there was not enough evidence to proceed, Ms. Pressman said. (The prosecutor’s office declined to comment on her remarks.)
In Eligon's story, we don't learn much about Elizabeth Pressman. We learn her age and gender and that she drinks tea, details which help us place her as a specific character in our minds. We learn that she was raped twice by a longtime acquaintance and that police dismissed these assaults, facts essential to Elgion's story. And we learn that Pressman is a "news researcher who formerly worked for The Times," a disclosure which covers any potential conflict of interest in Elgion's reporting of the story.
But then, Elgion closes the story with this odd kicker:
“If I were to speak to a woman about reporting a rape, I would say: ‘Don’t put yourself through it. Don’t put yourself through the humiliation and the abuse,’ ” said Ms. Pressman, whose father is the veteran television newsman Gabe Pressman. “It’s horrific what the cops do to you. It’s not worth it. Be ready to be raped a second time.”
Why? Why, at the conclusion of a story about a woman's traumatic assault and the humiliating and abusive police response that followed, is it necessary to note her father's name and occupation? Does the Times think Pressman is a more credible rape victim because her father is an accomplished journalist? Was the newspaper worried that we'd walk away from the story of this woman's rape with the nagging suspicion that she is somehow related to a man we've seen on television? Personally, I can't find any appropriate reason for derailing a woman's thoughts about her own assault in order to talk up her dad.