NPR Gives Raped Males The Unworthy Victim Treatment
Last week, June 23, Attorney General Eric Holder missed the deadline for issuing standards to prevent prison rape.1
Men being raped in prison is so accepted by mainstream America that Saturday Night Live's writers saw nothing wrong with doing 4-1/2 minutes of ass-rape jokes in a sketch called "Scared Straight" that ended with Betty White saying emphatically, "Wizard of Ass"!2 Blogger Scott Starnes states the attitude explicitly. Under a graphic stating "Ass-Rape: It's Always Funny," Starnes asks: "Who honestly cares about criminals being ass-raped in prison?"3
Ignorant callousness is an obvious problem for reformers trying to eliminate prison rape. But an even more insidious problem is the media's treatment of male victims as unworthy of concern, as NPR's Morning Edition recently did.4. NPR chose to ignore the fact that 90% of incarcerated individuals are male, and instead focused their story solely on a female-prisoner's experience of prison-rape. This form of bias is so subtle that most listeners won't even notice it. But it is a classic example of the very media bias described by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in their book Manufacturing Consent5, in which they write:
"Our hypothesis is that worthy victims will be featured prominently and dramatically, that they will be humanized, and that their victimization will receive the detail and context in story construction that will generate reader interest and sympathetic emotion. In contrast, unworthy victims will merit only slight detail, minimal humanization, and little context that will excite and enrage."
NPR's decision to focus solely on a female victim's experience demonstrates that they view female rape victims as "worthy" and male victims as "unworthy." And their mischaracterizing the issue will inevitably lead to stronger protections for female inmates and weaker or non-existent protections for the vast majority of inmates – the male inmates.
Society's indifference to male victimization helps explain why the Department of Justice can't get its act together to come up with standards that are already pretty well known. Columnist Robert Franklin summarizes the DoJ's cynical attitude about missing the deadline as, "Why bother? It's mostly men who are abused, right?"6
Cultural assumptions play an important role in the creation of public policy. And a subtly biased story coming from a mainstream media outlet like NPR is far more effective in propagating and perpetuating bias than anything an obviously biased blogger like Scott Starnes could come out with. Therefore, efforts at exposing subtle bias and trying to correct it are essential to RADAR's mission to reform the nation's domestic violence laws.
Kindly contact Morning Edition
and ask them to do a follow-up story on the DoJ's failure to issue standards for the prevention of prison rape. Let them know that their listeners want them to treat male victims as equally worthy of sympathy as female victims. In Chomsky and Herman's words, the suffering of male victims should be featured prominently and dramatically, the male victims should be humanized just as NPR's stories have done for female victims, and stories on male victims should give sufficient detail and context to generate reader interest and sympathetic emotion.
When you contact NPR, please be polite.
Date of RADAR Release: June 29, 2010
R.A.D.A.R. – Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting – is a non-profit, non-partisan organization of men and women working to improve the effectiveness of our nation's approach to solving domestic violence. http://www.mediaradar.org