Virgin or Vamp

Virgin or Vamp : How the Press Covers Sex Crimes

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The national press has recently lavished coverage on several major sex-related scandals: the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings, the William Kennedy Smith rape trial, and the Mike Tyson case. With each event came lurid stories pitting either a loose or a virginal woman against an unwilling or monstrous man. Such extreme coverage, argues Helen Benedict, perpetuates myths that are harmful to the victims of these crimes (and sometimes to the accused). With the rise in reported rapes, more such myth-mongering stories are bound to be seen in the future. In Virgin or Vamp, Benedict addresses the press's tendency to misrepresent rape, denigrate victims, and invade the privacy of its subjects, while also pointing out the press's critical role in informing and educating the public. In this timely book, Benedict draws on her experience as a reporter and professor of journalism to examine the print press's treatment of four prominent sex crimes from the past decade - the Rideout marital rape trial in Oregon, the Big Dan's pool table gang rape in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the "Preppy Murder" in New York, and the Central Park jogger rape. By analyzing the language of the original news stories and interviewing the original reporters, Benedict identifies the press's tendency to label victims as either virgins or vamps, a practice she condemns as misleading and harmful. For example, she finds that the press worked so hard at portraying Jennifer Levin, the victim of the "Preppy Murder, " as a man-chasing vamp that it made her seem as responsible for her death as was her killer, Robert Chambers. Likewise, Benedict shows how the press depicted Greta Rideout as a hysterical wife who accused her husbandof rape for revenge, rather than as a victim of domestic battery who eventually escaped - the truth of the case. Benedict also looks at other factors that perpetuate the misunderstanding of rape. For instance, she shows how the New York press presented the Central Park jogger rapeshow more

Product details

  • Hardback | 316 pages
  • 154.94 x 236.22 x 35.56mm | 635.03g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • 0195066804
  • 9780195066807

About Helen Benedict

About the Author Helen Benedict is Assistant Professor at the Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University. Her articles on rape and sexual assault have been published widely in newspapers and magazines, and she is the author of several books, including Recovery: How to Survive Sexual Assault, Portraits in Print, and A World Like more

Review Text

An in-depth analysis of the print media's handling of sex crimes. Focusing on four widely reported rape eases, Benedict (Journalism/Columbia Univ.; Recovery, 1985, etc.) dissects the attitudes and language found in newspaper and magazine reports of the incidents. The overriding consideration she detects is the perpetuation of the myth of the rape victim as either "virgin or vamp," a variation on the familiar "madonna/whore" dichotomy. To illustrate, Benedict chooses the 1978 Rideout ease of marital rape; the New Bedford, Mass., gang rape that was the basis of the film The Accused; the murder of Jennifer Levin in the so-called "Preppie Murder Case"; and the "Central Park Jogger" trial of 1989-90. Benedict begins with a concise and informative overview of the press's handling of sex crimes since the 1930's. Here and throughout, she does a sensitive job of linking, where applicable, race and class to her subject. But much of what she discovers - that reporters and editors denigrate women victims with such words as "girl" and "bubbly"; that alleged rapists' defense lawyers often rely on the "she was asking for it" line of argument; that press coverage almost invariably highlights the more sensational aspects of sex-crime trials - will be familiar to most readers. Benedict's probing into the advantages and disadvantages of disclosure of victims's identities is thought-provoking, though, and her recommendations for upgrading press coverage are dramatic, calling for a thorough overhaul of current newsgathering and reporting techniques. Lacking in original insights, but, still, a well-intentioned and thoroughly researched introduction to a painful subject. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

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64 ratings
3.84 out of 5 stars
5 30% (19)
4 39% (25)
3 20% (13)
2 8% (5)
1 3% (2)
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