Canterbury Tales: What an utter Kent

Despite the masthead proudly flying the flag, this weekend I had cause to check that Kent hadn’t broken off from the mainland and made a dash for Calais. Once satisfied, I then checked it hadn’t had a revolution and declared itself independent of the legal jurisdiction of England and Wales.

My consternation was brought about by this headline:

 

An accusation of stranger sex? What on earth? Convinced that Kent was both still attached and indeed still within the legal jurisdiction of England and Wales, I pondered as to whether there was a new sexual offence that I hadn’t heard of. Had the nuns from school finally succeeded in having moral turpitude made into a criminal offence, and now dropping your pants with someone whose surname you were unsure off was not only a mere mortal sin, it was also an offence?

Um, no. It was all rather more serious than that.

 

 

Despite the headline, and the above being the lead paragraph to the story, what Hitchin was accused of was not ‘stranger sex’; it was rape. And at the time this story was published, he wasn’t merely accused – a jury had found him guilty.

In this grubby, sordid, 1970’s redtop-esque version of reporting a rape trial, it manages in 555 words to mention the word rape once and then not even in the main text.  In a quote, it says:

At this stage, she wasn’t an ‘alleged’ anything. The jury, (who, it was helpfully reported, took 6hours 35 minutes to reach a verdict), decided that Hitchins was guilty of rape. There is no ‘alleged’ about it – she is a rape victim, and she was raped by Hitchins, an offence for which he is currently remanded in custody awaiting sentence.

The whole tenor of the piece is far removed from #IBelieveHer, using exclamation mark to illustrate the point that the victim had had consensual sex with her partner earlier in the evening (which is of course irrelevant), and of course mentioning that she was drunk at the time of the offence (which again, is irrelevant).

I found the piece grossly offensive, and mere steps away from pointing a finger at the victim and saying ‘Oh come on love, rape? Do me a favour’

I have written many times before on how rape cases are reported in the press, and the impact that can have both on public perceptions of the offence, and on other victims coming forward and reporting the offences committed against them to the police.

Imagine being her and reading that. Imagine being her friends and family reading that. And imagine being Hitchins friends and family reading that. Despite the conviction, the fingers of blame seeming point squarely her way. As a victim of rape surely she is entitled to some respect; respect which is sadly lacking in that piece.

Whilst it has been some time since a piece as bad as this has appeared in the national press, the fact that this mindset still exists in some publishing quarters, and the fact that the national press still have some way to go generally when reporting rape cases, demonstrates to me at least that perhaps we have reached a point in time where we need a set of guidelines as to how this offence is reported, starting with the basics of where the finger of blame should be pointed in such pieces.

We have spent the last 10 years making substantial improvements across the criminal justice system, and educating those within it how best to make the process cause the victim as little further pain as possible.  In the age of Leveson, now is the time to spread that education further.

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Should you want to read the report for yourself, it is here.

***Update: The original story has now been substantially rewritten, and can be found at the link above.

 

 

 

 

9 thoughts on “Canterbury Tales: What an utter Kent

  1. Shocking reporting. Have you contacted the paper/editor directly? I would. I once complained about the reporting in a child sexual abuse case. The language was too graphic and euphemistic – i.e. they over-sexualised the copy from the child’s perspective.
    After my email the wording was changed almost immediately.

    • It has now been substantially altered to read as a report of a rape case should read. Credit where it is due, they did it really quickly – and credit to Melissa Fix (below/above), who contacted the paper.

  2. “perhaps we have reached a point in time where we need a set of guidelines as to how this offence is reported, starting with the basics of where the finger of blame should be pointed in such pieces.”

    Yes, why not? Even if it is a voluntary code that not everyone signs up to, at least it would be somewhere to refer to as an example of ‘best practice’.

    I’m sure journos/legal types/interested parties could collaborate on-line and come up with something.

  3. The story is printed in our local paper today and sadly it is more or less back to the original. There are some changes (so they have had time to make them) but there is no mention of rape until the final paragraphs and not at all in the headline, and the article very much focuses on the actions of the victim rather than the perpetrator.

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