Thursday, May 25, 2006

Less Framing, Please

Talk about framing: when Tracy Clark-Flory writes about Lynn Duke's writing on the Duke case, why does she keep referring to the woman in question as 'the accuser'? Lynn Duke considers how coverage/discussion of the case has reinforced stereotypes about the sexuality of African-American women; her article is mostly about race in the case. Tracy Clark-Flory focuses more on class, and how the relative socio-economic positions of the principles are covered.

Much of the coverage of the case so far has used the details as a lens to consider something else: race, class, town-gown conflict. I have used it to write about campus and gang rape.

But how do we talk about Her? A woman was attacked while at work, for which she received medical attention at a nearby ER. There are legitimate reasons for preferring not to call her 'the victim', since that defines her by the crime others committed against her. It makes her an object being acted upon, both metaphorically and grammarily.

Calling her 'the accuser' reinforces the idea of a he said/she said equivalency. It affords her a more active role in the case, but it has the subtext of "alleged". The emphasis is placed upon her words, which, it suggests, may or may not be valid.

Given that her body became a crime scene, one might refer to her as 'the witness', although that could lead to potential confusion with the other woman who was working at that party on that night.

What are some other possibilities? How should we refer to a crime victim in a way that doesn't stress the victimization? Should we refer to the characteristics of a job title, or a college major? Stay-at-home-parents, as well as those who are unemployed and under-employed, all find that an emphasis on paid work as an identifier excludes them. Emphasizing her roles as daughter or mother make an appeal to her vulnerability and reinforce a patriarchal viewpoint by defining her in terms of her relationships.

I know that there is nothing I can possibly write about the topic that's going to help her in any way. She's had a horrific experience and her brave decision to report the crime means that in many ways the experience is unending. Nonetheless, I want to know: is there any way we can talk about a crime committed against a woman, or a man, or a child, that doesn't somehow make it worse?

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