Words, and the way we use them to describe rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, and sexual slavery, can evoke sympathy or revulsion toward the perpetrator of a crime or the person who was victimized. Furthermore, both the media and the legal system have tremendous power in eliciting emotions and stirring the pot of public sentiment.
Take the mid-November arrest of George Zimmerman—yes, the same George Zimmerman who was acquitted in the murder of Trayvon Martin this summer—on charges of felony aggravated assault. NBC News reported that 30-year-old Zimmerman had been “arrested and charged with threatening his girlfriend with a gun.” The Los Angeles Times noted that he spent the night post-arrest in a 64-square-foot cell. They also reported that he’d had several “scrapes with the law” during the previous six month. These included major and minor offenses: three traffic stops for speeding and having overly dark-tinted car windows, and one domestic abuse complaint. In the latter “scrape,” police questioned Zimmerman after his ex-wife, Shellie Zimmerman, told law enforcement that he had threatened her and her father with a gun while they were moving her possessions out of the home that she and George had once shared.
But back to the November arrest. According to USA Today, 27-year-old Samantha Scheibe, Zimmerman’s most recent flame, called 9-1-1 after Zimmerman “smashed a glass-top coffee table with the gun butt and ordered Scheibe out. He pushed her out and locked the door” of their Apopka, Florida, residence. The story then concludes that “Scheibe was not injured.”
Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), told RH Reality Check that “it is outrageous for the media to report that a woman who has been terrified and thrown out into the street is unharmed. Clearly, she has been harmed. There is no such thing as a victim of domestic violence who is unharmed.”
RAPE AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE
A Media Toolkit - for Local and National Journalists to Better Media Coverage
Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls & Young Women