Rape Myths in the Local and National Newspaper Coverage of the Brock Turner Case

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2020-12

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Abstract

Rape myths are false claims that pardon perpetrators, blame victims, and justify sexual assault. They are invoked when a case of sexual assault deviates from the socially constructed definition of “real rape,” in which a deranged man attacks an innocent woman despite her physical resistance. When characteristics or actions by the victim and perpetrator defy this definition, the victim can be held responsible. Rape myths help their endorsers explain and distance themselves from sexual assault. Previous studies focusing on high profile sexual assault cases found rape myths in the print media coverage of such cases. My study focuses on the Brock Turner case. Turner, a white Stanford student athlete, was found guilty of sexually assaulting an intoxicated and unconscious Emily Doe. He successfully used Doe’s intoxication, sexual history, apparel, and partying history to excuse his behavior. Because rape myths surfaced during the trial, they may surface in the media coverage of this case. Specifically, I examined rape myths in the reporting of this case in newspapers (n=50). Using a quantitative coding scheme, I documented the prevalence of these myths and how often journalists criticized these myths. Research shows when journalists report on cases of sexual assault, they often frame stories in which the victim is to blame. In the newspaper coverage of the Brock Turner case, 68 percent of articles contained at least one rape myth. The most prevalent rape myth was “rape is insignificant” (54 percent). The myth to receive the most criticism was “rape is insignificant” (60 percent).

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Keywords

content analysis, news media, quantitative, rape myths, sexual assault

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