NEWS

The Problem With Identifying An Alleged Rapist As An 'Honor Roll Student'

Why haven't we learned this by now?

22/06/2017 6:04 AM AEST | Updated 23/06/2017 6:05 AM AEST
Daily UV
A screenshot from the Daily UV's article about a young man who allegedly sexually assaulted two teen girls. 

UPDATE: On Wednesday night, a few hours after HuffPost published this piece, the Daily UV removed their story about Ryan Stocker and issued an apology.“Yesterday, a blogger who covers local breaking news published an article on our site which caused great offense to a number of readers,” the apology reads. ”Without asking the blogger’s permission, we decided to remove the article. It was clear that waiting for the blogger to address the matter was simply prolonging and spreading the injury. The decision to remove the article was ours alone and doesn’t necessarily reflect the blogger’s view of the controversy. For our part, we want to apologize to all those who were hurt by the blog post in question.”

EARLIER: On Tuesday, 18-year-old Ryan Stocker was charged with two counts of felony sexual assault at the Windsor County Courthouse in White River Junction, Vermont. 

A few things you need to know about Stocker is that he is a senior in high school who allegedly sexually assaulted two women, ages 16 and 18, who attend Green Mountain Union High School with him. He’s currently facing between three years and a full life sentence in prison if convicted on those two felony counts. According to local media outlet Daily UV, Stocker could face even more chargers as police investigate additional allegations that’s he’s committed similar crimes, one possibly involving a 15-year-old girl. 

One thing you don’t need to know about Stocker is that he’s an honor roll student. 

As BuzzFeed reporter Tyler Kingkade tweeted, the Daily UV’s article covering Stocker’s trial was wildly problematic. “Chester Honor Role [sic] Student Faces Potential Life Sentence,” the Daily UV’s headline reads. 

“Student accused of sexually assaulting two girls, but you wouldn’t know that from this @thedailyUV headline,” Kingkade tweeted. 

The short sentence below the headline (that’s usually used to sum up the story) apparently had to include that the girls Stocker allegedly assaulted were drunk at the time. While this short sentence isn’t included in the tweet, it is included if you click into the story. 

“Two teen girls say they were drunk when sexually assaulted,” the sentence below the Daily UV’s headline reads.  

The Daily UV
A screenshot of the Daily UV's headline that reported Stocker had been charged with two felony sexual assault counts.

The Daily UV’s framing of this story is problematic for a number of reasons. First, as Kingkade noted, the headline doesn’t even include that Stocker is facing a life sentence for allegedly sexually assaulting two women. (And, not for nothing, they spelled “roll” incorrectly in their Twitter headline.) 

Secondly ― and more importantly ― identifying Stocker as an “honor roll student” only fuels the delusional argument that an abuser’s crimes can somehow be nullified if he has a promising future. Just like we didn’t need to know that Brock Turner was an “All-American swimmer” with a “promising” future ― we don’t need to know Stocker is an honor roll student.

All too often, the media focuses on the details of the abuser’s life simply because that’s all they have to work with as the identity of the victim is not on public record. Including details about a person who’s been accused of sexual assault is not a bad thing, but only to a certain point. This balancing act becomes problematic when the details of the abuser’s life ― his bright future lost, his loving parents grieving, the great college he’s no longer attending ― become the story instead of the crimes he’s on trial for in the first place. 

While the Daily UV’s article is a small example, it represents a larger issue: The public and the media believe a rapist looks and acts a certain way.

Someone who gets good grades, is good at sports and happens to be white couldn’t possibly assault a woman, right? 

His grades, his athletic abilities, the fact that he may be a “good friend” ― none of this matters. These facts are irrelevant because a person can still get good grades and rape someone. Because a rapist is usually not some big, scary monster lurking in an alleyway waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting, innocent victim.

A rapist is usually someone you know, someone you’re friends with, someone your family is friends with. Seventy percent of people who experience sexual assault know their attackers. Out of juvenile sexual assault cases, 93 percent knew their attacker. 

In the same breath, it is still rape even if the victim was wearing revealing clothing, flirting, in a relationship with their abuser, doing drugs, and, yes, even if the victim was drinking.

Just as the perfect victim does not exist, the perfect abuser doesn’t either. 

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