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How the Media Exploits Sexual Crimes

lmarshalls Icon Posted by Lucinda Marshall

September 2nd, 2006

The media’s recent over-the-top coverage of both the arrest of ‘pedophile’ John Mark Karr in the Jon Benet Ramsey case and the arrest of Warren Jeffs for ‘polygamy’ is damaging in multiple ways. The first obvious reason is that the over reporting of these cases comes at the expense of coverage of other far more important news. Media Matters has a good analysis of this where they point out that,

Last week, the weblog Think Progress noted that on the day of the ruling, the three major television news broadcasts — ABC, CBS, and NBC — combined to run stories about the ruling that totaled only 2 minutes, 52 seconds. By comparison, the three network news broadcasts spent more than 15 minutes that same night on the JonBenet Ramsey murder investigation — a story of, to put it bluntly, no national significance whatsoever. NBC’s coverage was the most egregious: more than seven and a half minutes on Ramsey and only 27 seconds on the NSA ruling.

However there is a more subtle way in which the coverage of these stories is problematic, and I am indebted to the wise expertise of Lydia Walker and Susan McGee, both activists in ending the pandemic of domestic violence for pointing this out. Under a headline that read, “Fugitive Polygamist Arrested in Nevada”, SFGate ran an AP wire story that described Warren Jeffs as the “charismatic leader of a polygamous sect” facing charges that “he arranged marriages between underage girls and older men.” Polygamy refers to multiple marriages, but it is an utterly inappropriate description in this case. How about statutory rape or sexual enslavement of children and child abuse?

In the Ramsey case, John Mark Karr is routinely described as a pedophile. Anyone looked up that word lately? It comes from the Greek word “paidóphilos” which means loving children. There is nothing loving about child pornography let alone the murder and sexual assault of children. By using this word instead of calling the crime what it is, we pander to the illusion that this sort of activity is a legitimate form of entertainment.

There is nothing accidental about this language. From day one the allure of the Ramsey case was the glam shots of the little girl all decked out for a beauty contest. Come hither pictures that could just as easily been made for a child porn site. The stuff that very sick fantasies are made of, and a very lucrative business.

This stuff sells, and the media knows it. So do children’s clothing manufacturers. Rosa Brooks had a column in the LA Times that catalogued pre-teen t-shirts that said “The Rumors Are True, Little Mermaid halter tops and thongs (not the kind that go on your feet) for 7-year olds. The sexualization of little girls is very profitable and it will continue to be so until we demand that the crimes against these children be named for what they are.

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