The Sexist

Examiner‘s Solution to Bad Sexual Assault Reporting: Victim-Blame!

JPFriere

After Miss D.C. 2009 Jen Corey's claim that the Washington Examiner mischaracterized her sexual assault as a simple "bar fight," reporter Tara Palmeri first defended herself by claiming she doesn't always write her own stories. Now, the paper has revealed its second line of defense: Accusing Corey of being a bad sexual assault victim.

After registering Corey's complaint with the Examiner's coverage of her assault, J.P. Freire, the Examiner's associate editor of commentary, has decided to lend his expert opinion on the appropriate response to being sexually assaulted! And the appropriate response is: "to get away as fast as" possible. Thank you, noted sexual assault victim appropriateness expert J.P. Freire! What would victims of sexual assault do without J.P. Freire making things "fair"?

Let's follow the trajectory of the Examiner's response here: Corey was concerned that the paper had mischaracterized her experience with sexual assault, conflating her self-defense with "controversial" aggressiveness befitting a "bar fight." Palmeri responds by claiming that she didn't write the story—she just represented an intern's work as her own. Then, editor Freire jumps in to suggest that the paper's mishandling of sexual assault is justified because Corey wasn't a demure enough victim for Freire's taste.

Never mind that Corey has spoken publicly about all the potential tactics available to victims of sexual assault—from physical self-defense to verbal diffusion strategies to running to safety to reporting to authorities. Never mind that she's emphasized that there is no one "ideal" way to respond to an assault. Never mind that it is, in fact, the Washington Examiner that has been goading every beauty queen it can squeeze a quote out of into adopting Corey's own self-defense strategies. Never mind all that! I'd hate to let actual reporting get in the way of some dude offering glib 140-character solutions to sexual assault over Twitter:

JPFreire

Bonus: Freire has previously written on the dangerous problem of institutions mischaracterizing sexual assault! In April, Freire criticized Duke University's "disturbing" new sexual assault policy, which he said makes "no clear distinction between genuinely horrifying behavior and non-offenses." You don't say.

UPDATE: Freire has posted a response in the comments.

  • Kit-Kat

    So because there is a jackass in the bar who doesn't feel the need to keep his hands to himself, the "appropriate" thing is for *her* to leave? Apparently, victims of crimes are supposed to run and hide, leaving all the parties to the criminals. The good news is, Jen Corey being as smart and assertive as she is, something tells me this is a fight that the Examiner is not going to win.

    (This is not to say that getting away as fast as possible is never the appropriate response. It may well be the best way for someone to handle a bad situation in which they are threatened with sexual assault. But it's stupid to say that it's always the appropriate response.)

  • kza

    At least he's being fair.

  • Em

    I like that he used French. Using French when you're patronizing someone doesn't just say what you mean to say, it also adds another layer of "I'm a jackass, non?" Or perhaps le douche is the right term?

  • drsnacks

    I wonder if he's conscious of why he's vested in getting away being considered the most appropriate response.

  • Laurel

    ...because he knows there's only so fast she can "get away" in a swimsuit and heels?

  • http://dcmazzie.wordpress.com/ Mazzie

    I'm used to men victim blaming and asserting their privilege when it comes to their treatment of women's bodies. I'm still always surprised, though, when other women support it by minimizing, deflecting, and jumping on the victim-blaming bandwagon.

  • http://dcmazzie.wordpress.com/ Mazzie

    And, for the record, Freire has no right to tell anyone else what the appropriate thing to do when being sexually assaulted. And the purpose for whatever a victim does during the assault is to survive. Do people not get that sexual assault, even if it is "only in public" - or whatever the fucked up justification for twisting this story into some sort of amusement - often brings with it life-altering terror? There is nothing on Earth that can be compared to the absolute horror in knowing you're not safe in your own body.

  • Pingback: I’ll take Potpourri for $200, Alex « i, sandwich

  • squirrely girl

    Sex and gender aside, I just love it when ANYBODY tells a victim how to be an "appropriate victim" - what a serious ass-hat! Maybe when he's victimized he can share with his adoring readership how he appropriately responded as the victim. Maybe he could hold his breath until that happens?

  • Kristina

    Maybe he could hold his breath when it happens. I bet an attacker would stop if the victim just held his/her breath! "Oh no! Miss DC is turning blue! I should stop!" is clearly a possible scenario. About as possible as "Oh, well. Miss DC is walking away. Clearly my advances are unwelcome, and I should stop."

    I prefer Miss DC's tried and true approach. Move some brain cells around a little while you slam him against a wall.

  • http://dcexaminer.com JP Freire

    Man, *she* should not have to leave when *he* is being a jerk. That's absolutely true. And I definitely waded into waters with which I was unfamiliar. But I'm a little disappointed that I sent this email to Amanda a few hours ago and she didn't amend her blogpost to reflect it, so I'm just going to post it here.
    ----

    Amanda,

    Thanks for those resources [she sent me some websites on dealing with sexual assault, which also talked about appropriate ways to deal with it] -- I'm familiar w/them. And I agree, there's no one right way. Frankly, women should deal with the situation however they feel comfortable. I mistook what she'd been saying with her tweets as her saying simply: Get in the face of drunk jerks. That immediately made me worry that she was advocating to women that fighting can be safe. But it's fighting! Sometimes you should, sure, but sometimes you shouldn't.

    Well, I was wrong -- she wasn't making that point. She clearly understands that, we pretty much agree, and I regret misunderstanding it. My initial "to be fair" remark was really to address that point. It's rooted in how I was raised: Stand my ground when necessary and to stand down if it would avert further calamity -- don't let a bad situation cloud your thinking. If you can de-escalate, do so. But that would be

    Seeing the clip, she sure did hit it out of the park. And the Examiner's coverage of the initial event did talk about how she had taken too much flack from others, and I'm glad it wound up helping her go on TV to talk about it so she could address the situation more. So, no, I don't see how that initial piece on her encounters at bars really "blamed the victim."

    I wasn't trying to address our coverage because I don't speak for that side of the paper -- I'm opinion, Yeas and Nays are on news. I do have respect for Nikki and Tara, though, and I hope Corey continues to work with them so that she gets the word out. As far as I'm concerned, too many men have given up on being gentlemen while out and use being intoxicated as an excuse to harass, and yes, assault women in what they consider "minor" ways.

    A sidenote: My coverage of sexual assault policy on Duke's campus addressed the school's much too unclear language that made rules concerning sexual assault unenforceable, or at the least, overbroad. The victim is at a disadvantage at that point. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, whom I cite in the article, has a lot of really good resources regarding sexual harassment and assault on campuses.

    Further sidenote: It's kind of dispiriting to see the kinds of remarks people've made based on your post. I guess that's the Twitter world.

    -JP
    ----

  • k not K

    Dude if you have such a nuanced opinion that it's not possible to express it in 140 characters (or less than a 5 paragraph essay apparently), then the approp. thing to do is STEP AWAY FROM THE TWITTER as fast as poss., non?

  • http://dcexaminer.com JP Freire

    k not K wins the day.

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist Amanda Hess

    @JP

    I appreciate you acknowledging that your understanding of Corey's position was incorrect. But that's not really the point. If you had actually disagreed on how Corey chose to respond to her sexual assault, would it be okay for you---a stranger who was not the person being sexually assaulted---to publicly criticize her for it?

    Victim-blaming also has a lot to do with timing. If you were concerned about the way you thought Corey was advocating for sexual assault victims, why did you wait until she aired legitimate concerns about your newspaper's coverage of her assault to criticize her on this unrelated point? This has the effect of minimizing her concerns. The timing of your tweet very much implied that her criticism was less valid because you believe she didn't respond correctly. That's what I call blaming the victim.

    I never said the initial piece blamed the victim, just that its approach to sexual assault was sensationalistic and lacked nuance. I did call your response victim-blaming.

    And I don't disagree with your take on the Duke sexual assault policy. The point is that words matter, whether your definition of sexual assault is overbroad (as in the case of Duke), or not broad enough (as in the case of the Examiner).

  • Native American JD

    Examiner needs to close.

    Alternatively, Metro needs to sue Examiner for littering our subway.

  • Elise

    My personal perspective on the whole "What to do when sexually assaulted?" thing is this: anyone who assaults you is a predator. Running casts you as prey, which means they will chase, even if they're not terribly interested, simply because it is what THEY DO. And if you run from a place with people (where the behavior will, presumably, be less tolerated) to a place without people (an even less safe place than the initial one) you have suddenly become prey without anyone around you. To really stop an assaulter, you act like a bigger, badder predator - if they're dangerous, you react physically, and otherwise you react however you are most comfortable. We're not animals, nor do we act too much like dogs in most situations, but I've found the same basic principles apply with both human and animal predators - they like easy victims.

  • drsnacks

    My perspective is: what is the appropriate response from a man who is being sexually assaulted?

    @Laurel I was more getting at a vague discomfort about the "women as a subjugated class" paradigm being disrupted. Fleeing is encouraged because it implies almost as little agency as submission (which is obvious in its inappropriateness).

  • Elise

    Same as for a woman, to me - I carefully did not use gender pronouns because ANYONE can be assaulted, and whoever does it is a predator. That makes the person being assaulted the "prey". Men being assaulted should scream or yell as loud as possible, too. Attention is good.

    Though, unfortunately, a man who is assaulted is less likely to find sympathetic police officers or other public officials - so I'd suggest being a bit more careful with physical force, just from the perspective of trying to disable while causing as little harm as possible. Really, though, it comes down to 1) what you're comfortable reacting with (calling the cops, or fighting back, etc) and 2) whether you think you're in physical danger (and the degree of the danger - you NEVER fight a knife or gun unless you're certain you'll be killed if you don't fight).

    I, personally, love having self-defense training, and think that everyone, regardless of whether it is seen as socially "acceptable" should take a self-defense course, and practice until all the motions and thoughts are completely automatic.

  • k not K

    @ JP

    we cool

  • http://DCExaminer.com JP

    @Amanda

    I didn't really wait. I didn't know who Corey was prior to her tweets knocking Tara. I responded not to defend her, though, but just because I was reading what she had *just written*. Coming in with limited knowledge as I did, I just saw her as advocating for particular responses, not speaking to her own experience. So, I'll be clearer: I'm not one to judge whether her response was appropriate, but I think what she did was right. The advocacy portion raised my concerns. I wasn't addressing her concerns so much as raising my own with regard to her. Make sense?

    Lastly, I don't know if there's some broad editorial policy against the definition of sexual assault. I think it's up to the discretion of a reporter. If you want to follow up with the reporters, they're available to talk about it, as they've been. Have you called them or emailed them in the course of your postings?

  • http://DCExaminer.com JP

    Oh, and @Elise, your advocacy for self-defense courses warms the heart, as well as your understanding of the pratfalls of isolating victims to only one gender.

    @JD -- Metro can sue us as soon as they fix all the escalators at a reasonable cost and on time.

    @Squirrely girl: I do regret using the term "appropriate." I meant "effective." And contrary to public opinion, I do not wear a hat on my ass. (Seriously, tho, there are some biographical assumptions in that comment of yours that you *may* want to be careful about throwing out there.)

    @Mazzie: I hear you on the men behaving as they do thing. *As a guy*, it bothers me too.

    I don't get email updates, by the way, when people post comments to this thread, so if I don't respond to other stuff, it's mainly because I'm very forgetful.

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist Amanda Hess

    @JP

    The advocacy portion of your position is what raises my concerns. You told a victim of sexual assault that one response was appropriate and another wasn't. That's trading (what you thought was) advocacy for your own advocacy.

    You don't think physical self-defense is "effective"---from whose perspective? I've interviewed many victims of public sexual assault who spend years regretting their inability to publicly speak out against or physically stop their attackers in the moment. Whether a response is effective or not is, again, up to the individual survivor, not you.

    I haven't spoken to the reporters credited with the story, but it's not always necessary to contact a journalist who has written something in public just to make sure he or she really truly means it. I am, however, happy to follow up to see if there is an editorial policy about what is considered "sexual assault," because I find that question interesting.

    Whether the terminology is up to the discretion of the reporter or not, saying "we can define this however we want" doesn't preclude criticism of your chosen definition. It would also help if the person who wrote the story was credited with a byline for writing that story, so we know just who is crafting these definitions. It would also help if the person who did have the public byline didn't shrug off subjects' concerns with a "haha" and a shifting of blame to the anonymous intern. Also, the problem is not just with the failure to employ the word "sexual assault," though, it's with the entire thrust of the piece, which sensationalizes Corey's response while downplaying the action of the assailant. Again, I imagine it's a product of the Examiner's reporting that you saw Corey to be an advocate of beating up men who "touch" her, because that's exactly how the paper framed her story.

  • http://dcexaminer.com JP Freire

    This is word twisting:

    You don’t think physical self-defense is “effective”—from whose perspective? I’ve interviewed many victims of public sexual assault who spend years regretting their inability to publicly speak out against or physically stop their attackers in the moment. Whether a response is effective or not is, again, up to the individual survivor, not you.

    Actually, I said this:

    And I agree, there’s no one right way. Frankly, women should deal with the situation however they feel comfortable. I mistook what she’d been saying with her tweets as her saying simply: Get in the face of drunk jerks. That immediately made me worry that she was advocating to women that fighting can be safe. But it’s fighting! Sometimes you should, sure, but sometimes you shouldn’t.

    Sometimes it's effective. Sometimes it's not. You're agreeing with me. Why are you saying we disagree?

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist Amanda Hess

    @JP I think the problem in coming to agreement is that I feel you're contradicting yourself here. Perhaps you've just changed your opinions on some of this stuff in the past 48 hours, and in that case, we probably do agree. If not, this is how I read you as-is:

    "Frankly, women should deal with the situation however they feel comfortable." Totally agree with this!

    But "I do regret using the term 'appropriate.' I meant 'effective.'" In the context of your tweet, this doesn't make your statement better. "To be fair, Miss D.C., in cases of sexual assault the effective thing to do is to get away as fast as possible." That's still you imposing your preferred response on the victim. In that light, it's hard to say whether your final statement here---"it’s fighting! Sometimes you should, sure, but sometimes you shouldn’t"---really means that you think victims should do whatever makes them comfortable, or that they should do what you think is best given the context. I read your opinions here as wanting it both ways: To acknowledge that it's up to victims to react in the way they feel comfortable, but also to tell them what "should" be best for them to do.

    Your second tweet there---"the purpose is getting away, no?"---actually doesn't make sense as an attempt to debunk (what you read as) Corey advocating for violence in all situations. It does suggest that in your opinion, the correct response is to run, and that's not always what victims are looking to achieve in their responses.. If you've since changed your position on that, great! If not, then we disagree.

  • Kit-Kat

    Hey, JP--just wondering, if you didn't know anything about the situation, why did you tweet about it? I know you're trying to defend yourself here, but the most charitable reading of your defense is "I didn't know what I was talking about, and I didn't want to bother actually investigating the situation in any way, but I thought it was important that I say something publicly, no matter how ignorant." This really doesn't make you look any better. If those are the journalistic standards at the Examiner, I don't feel at all bad about not reading it.

  • Pingback: Beyond the Campus: Week 12 | Change Happens: The SAFER Blog

  • Ivanna

    Can someone please assault him in the same manner...Then will see how we can deal with such situation. ( lead with example) what if his mother or his own daughter were assaulted? I wonder if he would think,feel,say or act the same... NOTE: We,tax payers pay his salary.He needs to represent the people,work for us not against us. Talking about bitig the hand that feeds you... vote people. There is a large number of unemployed,well qualify,deserving individuals that can do the JOB. HMM. WHAT IS HE THINKING?

  • Joey

    Reducing sexual reporting fraud is important. False sexual assault accusations are just as harmful as sexual assault and the victims are fully entitled to equal justice -- regardless of gender.

...