The New York Times Puts Another Alleged Rape Victim on Trial

Last month, The New York Times stirred massive controversy by implicating an 11-year-old girl in her own brutal gang-rape, reporting that she “dressed older than her age [and wore] make-up.”

This week, they’re blaming the victim yet again.

In 2008, a 29-year-old woman was out celebrating a job promotion with friends when she had too much to drink and was helped home by two on-duty police officers. After that, she testified last Friday, she felt an officer tugging off her tights and heard a loud Velcro-like tearing sound (which prosecutors say is akin to the sound of a bullet-proof vest being stripped off). Her next memory is of being raped. Officer Kenneth Moreno, her alleged assailant, then kissed her on the shoulder before leaving her home.

But the defense says no sex took place. And The New York Times was quick to question the victim’s story:

The prosecution’s case may rely heavily on the credibility of a woman who was admittedly drunk at the time she says she was sexually assaulted, and cannot recall large portions of the evening.

Not so fast.

First off, alcohol causes memory loss, not false memories. When drinkers try to fill in the lost time, they generally assume positive experiences–unlike, say, rape.

Second, the victim’s so-called “credibility” had not yet entered into legal question at the time of the newspaper’s report, so the above statement is purely editorial. The defense had yet to cross-examine the witness or make its case. In fact, according to an earlier Times report, the defense’s opening statement had pointed to the woman’s ability to direct the cab driver to her apartment as evidence of her coherence and ability to “think and have normal conversations” on the night of the assault. The question of her credibility–on account of her level of intoxication–didn’t come up in trial until after it was questioned in print by The New York Times.

The Times’ decision to question this woman’s credibility is egregious, given that false rape accusations account for only 2 to 8 percent of all rape reports. And, experts say, false accusations are easy to spot, so they are unlikely to make it out of police stations and into courtrooms. When did it become the business of newspapers to put rape victims on trial?

Moreover, this is hardly a he-said-she-said case. No one disputes that the officers helped the woman to her East Village apartment after a cab driver called them to assist her. Surveillance video footage shows the two men entering and exiting the building three more times. Oddly, Moreno even admits to kissing the woman on the shoulder.

In addition, several days after the incident, the woman confronted Moreno at the police station where he works and recorded their conversation. He repeatedly denied that a rape had occurred, but when asked whether or not he had worn a condom during the assault, he replied, “Yes, I did.”

Despite this admission, which the defense argues was fabricated in an effort to end the confrontation, The New York Times saw fit to turn the case on its head and put the victim’s credibility on trial. If a woman’s “credibility” is publicly questioned because she was drunk when she was assaulted, it sends a message to attackers that they can get away with raping drunk women, and it sends a message to such victims that their stories won’t be believed.

Sadly, the media isn’t the only entity sending women the message that a drunk victim can’t really be raped. This woman’s report to the police might not have even counted as a rape under the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report–the go-to national tally of violent crimes reported to police each year. The FBI counts only one type of rape, “forcible” rape, and they define that as “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” Experts say police interpret that definition as leaving out rapes of women who are intoxicated or unconscious; many police believe, strangely, that if a woman is incapacitated she can’t be “forced,” thus her rape would be excluded. So this woman, already on trial in the court of The New York Times, may not even have her rape report counted by the FBI. In the new issue of Ms., we investigate the broad and tragic fall-out of the FBI’s outmoded and narrow definition of “forcible” rape. To read more, subscribe today to have this issue delivered to your mailbox.

As for The New York Times, it’s high time their rape coverage changed. Sign the petition below to encourage The Times to properly train its reporters on covering sexual assault–the time-honored tradition of “trial by newspaper” must come to an end.

 

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Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Comments

  1. There's a difference between therapy and criminal justice. A victim's credibility is always the issue, since in our system, there's a legal presumption that the accused is innocent. This applies as much in rape prosecutions as it does and should do in murder or shoplifting. We go down a very dangerous road if we assume that the State is right in prosecuting its citizens.

    • Someone I doubt that you would ever whine on a blog about shoplifters or murderers not getting the benefit of the doubt. It's always the rapists that get defended by the "logical" and "rational" dudebros who flock to feminist blogs.

      • Terry C - NJ says:

        "It's always the rapists that get defended by the "logical" and "rational" dudebros who flock to feminist blogs."

        That's the type of male (I can't call them men) who believes that ANYTHING to do with SEX can't POSSIBLY be BAD

  2. canyonoflight says:

    I think the FBI's definition of rape disturbs me more than the NYT's article which is infuriating enough in itself. It makes me feel really safe as a woman to know that if I'm ever raped while intoxicated or asleep that the law won't prosecute because I wasn't held at gun point or beaten or drugged. It's no wonder that so many women don't bother to report rape. The law would rather protect rapists than prosecute them.

  3. Latishia says:

    This is fucking disgusting. If you are unable to say yes then that means NO!

  4. Aki Muthali says:

    If a women cannot CONSENT due to intoxication or unconsciousness, she cannot GIVE PERMISSION for someone to have sex with her. This means that if the man sticks his penis inside her ANYWAY, it results in RAPE. IF you, a government official, or anyone else who supposedly "protect" citizens cannot understand the term CONSENT, then please, dump your credentials and go back to grade school and LEARN YOUR VOCABULARY. =]

  5. as a 10 year survivor of a drug induced rape (GHB), i am utterly sickened in my soul to read of the constant victim blame that survivors endure.

    semantics be damned. blame the rapist, not the victim.

  6. It’s intersting that the NYT piece doesn’t editorialize about the fact that the police officers left and re-entered the apartment several times or the fact that the officer admitted to kissing her on the shoulder AND to “wearing a condom” even though he claims he didn’t rape the victim. They only chose to editorialize against the woman, since everybody knows that women always make up pretend rape stories after they’ve been drunk…

  7. A Voice of Reason says:

    What police officer carries a condom with him on the job? Do they keep them near their flashlights? Behind their badge? Obviously, him admitting to using a condom was an attempt to get her to leave him alone. We’re all guilty of performing such actions.

    Would you like to know what is more sick than rape? A country has persecutes it’s citizens without a fair trial. You people are objecting to the victim being put on trial. Why? If we had it your way, every man accussed of rape would be instantly thrown behind bars. That’s not fair, is it? An accusation of rape needs to be looked at as a whole. Focusing on the accused perpetrator solely makes the trial one-sided and biased. It’s assuming that all women are honest and good-hearted. This simply isn’t the case. Male, female or transgender- evil exists in every single form. There will be cases of false rape, where a women cries rape despite it never occuring. Because of that, every single case of rape needs to be analyzed under a microscope. Everyone involved needs to be a participant in the trial process.

    And finally, a lot of people are saying that this is disrespectful to the women, which is implying this is her fault. Well guess what? Had she not gotten drunk and left herself vulnerable, this wouldn’t have happened. I know that’s an unpopular opinion among the feminist community, but it’s the truth. Rapists are going to rape. So protect yourself! If I wear a meat suit, run into a lion exhibit in the zoo and get mauled to death, whose fault is it? Mine or the lions? It’s my fault! I shouldn’t have attracted unwanted attention and put myself in a situation where I was going to get mauled.

    I’m not saying this is all of the women’s fault. If the officer did indeed rape her, it’s more of his fault, but that’s not to say the women didn’t contribute to the event either. She made herself vulnerable. She got wasted. She wasn’t with friends. She surrounded herself with strangers while being intoxicated. Had she been a little more safe, it wouldn’t have happened.

    Think of it like a sexually transmitted disease. If you have sex with a guy who has AIDs, and you contract it, is it his fault? No. You should’ve protected yourself or not had sex. Your improper choices led to you contracting the disease.

    And before I get any hate, I do realize that often times rape is forced upon women and that a women doesn’t have to be drunk or wearing skimpy clothing to catch the attention of the rapist. Yes, that does occur. And I pity those women. It’s truly a shame that a woman can be minding her business, doing nothing wrong, then suddenly have a man forcing her to perform sexual acts. It’s disgusting. But I feel less pity for the women who wear hardly any clothes and get so wasted that they can’t even stay conscious for 5 minutes. Yes, it’s not right you got raped, but maybe you should take better care of yourself to avoid such things happened. Just saying.

    Good day.

    • Rosemary says:

      as soon as i saw your name was "the voice of reason," i knew this was going to be good

    • Wow. I have probably never read a more disgusting piece of victim blaming in my whole life. Why can we never hold the actual perpetrators of crime responsible? A rapist is a rapist no matter how much of an "easy target" their victim is. So because this woman was drunk she's more deserving of being sexually assaulted? You said if she had been a little more safe it wouldn't have happened. What could be more safe then getting an escort home from POLICE OFFICERS??? Oh but they're still men right. Nothing but animals who can't be expected to keep their rapey urges in check in the presence of a drunk woman. God forbid we hold the actual criminal responsible for the attack. Nope, it was totally provoked by her intoxication and pretty outfit.
      What garbage. Stop selling your entire gender short. Rape isn't a natural disaster, it's not some unstoppable force, it's something that we are constantly teaching men they can get away with. It is a willful act of violence done purposely by somebody with a rational mind. Men aren't beasts. They're humans who can make decisions. Like the decision NOT to rape someone. And isn't the fact that totally sober, "modestly dressed" women are raped as well proof that women cannot stop rape? That it doesn't make sense to lay that responsibility on them.? Sure if that woman wasn't out drinking that night this wouldn't have happened. But it also wouldn't have happened if that cop wasn't a fucking rapist. You position is irrational and insulting to men.

    • Terry C - NJ says:

      "I feel less pity for the women who wear hardly any clothes and get so wasted that they can't even stay conscious for 5 minutes."

      Excuse me? Perhaps you think women should be forced to wear burkas and not permitted to drink at all.

      Thanks for blaming the victim. I hope you don't have daughters!!!!

    • Following the lion analogy, men are merely animals? Free to maul at will–and NOT be held accountable for their criminal actions? I always thought men were human beings: capable of logic, reason and morality.

      Apparently "A Voice of Reason" thinks differently.

    • turquoise says:

      I was three when i was first raped – probably wearing something pretty and pink – was I asking for it? And why should women have to take all the responisibility for making sure they're safe and protected and armed against men. Should we all wear burkas to hide the fact that we are women and beautiful? If I were a man i would resent that attitude also. Let's respect each other and not make excuses. If a woman or child doesn't say yes, its rape. It's not what a woman wears that causes rape, it's mens weakness and stupidity.

  8. WHAT is this BS about intoxicated equals consent?

    Hello, if you’re incapable of giving consent — b/c you’re intoxicated or under the influence of drugs or medication, b/c you’re unconscious after someone has drugged you or has knocked you on the head, b/c you are too young to give consent, etc — then it’s non-consensual.

    If you can’t give consent, it’s nonconsensual.

  9. The NYT is reporting relevant facts from a court trial. I find it mildly amusing that your criticism is that they are reporting facts and not simply condemning the alleged rapists. That’s what the courts and apparently this blog is for. The officers may be dirty scumbags who raped this poor woman. The woman may or may not be a victim; your criticism is levied at unbiased reporting which is where the amusing bit comes in-you do this in the name of truth.

    BTW- the link to false rape accusations is broken

  10. " The FBI counts only one type of rape, “forcible” rape, and they define that as “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” " So… I guess by this definition, men cannot be raped?

    • Yes. That is a different crime. I believe it's called forcible sodomy. I'm not 100& sure about the name, but you get the idea.

  11. Where's the link for the petition?

    • Stephanie says:

      The petition is linked inside the Care2 box at the bottom of the page, it might just take a second to load. Thanks for signing!

  12. Once again, the victim/survivor is on trial. Report facts. Don't editorialize. All we want are the facts, thank you.
    I'm all for the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof being on the prosecution, but when the NYT
    or any other news organization decides to sensationalize an already delicate topic, we're lost.
    As a survivor of rape, I can tell you that you think twice before you make the allegation.
    It's hard enough to say the words, "I was raped" without having to endure this type of brutality.
    Imagine for one moment what it would feel like to have to piece together something so violent
    and dehumanizing, confront your attacker and be treated as if you were lying or worse, out of your head.
    Rape isn't about sex- it's about control.
    It seems the accused are using it to their advantage with the help of the NYT.

    • rape may be about control, it may be about sex, it may be about both. Which part of the NYT piece was fictional or otherwise editorialized? None. This blog post is a complete editorial attempting to do the very thing you lament here.

  13. First off, I am a woman and have been a victim of sexual assault (attempted rape by a stranger when I was 20). Do I think something happened? Yes, I don't think the victim is making things up. I just don't think there is a ton of proof here, even the transcript doesn't seem to support the allegations. When I read it, I did find it entirely plausible that he did just say those things to get her off his back because he kept flip flopping and denying. Also, innocent men have gone to prison for years based on victim testimony – victims that were stone cold sober. These victims had identified the wrong men and later on DNA advances set many of them free. So if someone is so drunk they are passing out regularly, how reliable is their testimony going to be? Those linked studies don't really prove anything, you can find studies to support just about any viewpoint these days.

    I do think the guy did it, or he did seem to do something inappropriate, but if he's exonerated it will be because of weak evidence. Just because we emotionally identify with the victim doesn't mean the courts treat the cases differently. We're all innocent until proven guilty.

    • The fact remains those police officers took her home instead of the police station and she was drunk enough that it was not safe to leave her alone. That level of public drunkenness is usually not legal, and if she was drunk enough to lose her memory then she needed to be monitored til she sobered up. And they were in uniform and had no business going into her house with her. Even if this case is dismissed they need to lose their jobs. Even if they'd never laid a hand on her they could have killed her by neglect.

      • They should have taken her to the hospital. Actually, with my 20/20 hindsight and an acknowledgment that I’m sure he meant well, that’s what I wish the cab driver had done rather than call the police, whom I don’t trust as far as I can throw, for reasons well documented.

      • While it is suspicious that the officer didn’t take her to the police station. It’s not uncommon for officers to take people home when they cannot drive or get a ride. Heck I was taken home once in a cruiser

        I was NOT raped.

  14. Terry C - NJ says:

    Doesn't surprise me. When I was a kid, when the cops were called for a guy beating his wife, they took the abuser's side. Seems most cops were wife beaters, too.

    I am sick and tired of this war on women that is escalating in this country. This is supposed to be America, not Afghanistan.

  15. Antoinette says:

    The NYT also consistently refers to rape victims – and particularly this victim — as an "accuser" — I am unaware of any other criminal acts wherein the victim is referred to as an accuser — perhaps the NYT would prefer we go back to the days when rape victims needed eyewitness corroboration to be taken seriously.

    There was an interesting story about a Georgia Republican state representative that introduced legislation back in February "…mandating that not only victims of rape be re-classified as "accusers," but victims of stalking, harassment, and family violence should as well."
    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/02/05/georgia-rep

  16. MALE SURVIVOR OF RAPE SHARES EMPATHY WITH LATEST VICTIM, AS WELL AS MILLIONS OF OTHERS EVERYWHERE–But He Dosen't Give a Shit If He Offends/Pisses Off the Right Wing, that's right, I had this crime happen to me over 30 yeard ago, I was in my late teens at the time, didn't report it, as much as I believe that victims SHOULD report it, of course I understand too well why many still don't. I know the Right Wing Nuts also wish to slash funding for victims of domestic violence. As for you RightWingers out there–well, aren't going to ask me what I did to deserve to get the shit raped out of me? No? Oh, come on, I'm dissapointed! It may provide you another photo op, as well as another chance to look down on someone. As for the FBI, at this moment, the only three words I have for the FBI– Thanks For Nothing.

    • Thanks, man. I mean it. So often, male rape survivors troll these discussions acting like only they have ever been hurt and female survivors don't matter–rapists go after all genders and ages and modes of dress and whatever other divisive descriptors people use when they don't want to face how ugly the world can be. The more of us who get pissed off and stand together, maybe we can finally put an end to all this second-guessing. Rape is wicked. Rape is ugly. Rape is one of the few crimes you can never, ever excuse–even with homicide, sometimes you have to do that in self-defense. But rape is always an OFfensive act, never defensive. Face the facts, world: some people really are that ugly in spirit.

      • I am also a male rape survivor (female perp – yes, they do exist) of nearly 20 years and a secondary survivor of 18 years.. I have not seen ANY male rape survivors come on this board acting like only they matter and that female survivors don’t matter. Perhaps I missed such outbursts or perhaps that is a bit of a generalization.

        That said, I agree with Neptune as well.

  17. Bonita Houmita says:

    new york times owned by Rupert Murdoch are expecting ethics from a man like him and his Shiite Saudi friends Talel wake up they are the media empire of USA have no ethics and dont care its all about money propaganda and influencing you mind

  18. I would like to know what to do about getting the FBI’s definition of rape changed. If this is the standard that is being used, then it should be the focus of intense lobbying. As all of the sane writers before me have written, the words “forcibly and against her will” should be changed to “without her willing consent.” Consent can be forced, so we have to account for the instances when it is.

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