Monthly Archives: January 2015

Alleged Victim – Trivializing Trauma

I read a story in a newspaper a few months ago that really bothered me. The story was disturbing enough on it’s own merit, it involved a brutal sexual assault that spanned multiple hours and multiple locations. It is incomprehensible on so many levels, but what bothered me more than the content of the story itself was the journalistic slant that was taken in the article.

In our country, every person has the right under law to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Even being “caught red-handed” does not necessarily constitute being proven guilty, and so due process is allowed to run its course. When reporting activities of a criminal nature, many media sources have taken up the practice of referring to these people, presumed innocent until proven guilty, as the “alleged perpetrator” of a crime. You have undoubtedly read or heard sentences like “The alleged shooter is due to appear in court this morning…” or “police have one suspect in custody who allegedly robbed the bank.” What these statements amount to is that the person they refer to has been accused of committing an act, but that accusation has not yet been proven; the person accused may or may not have committed that act.

What disturbed me in this article I was reading was that this approach had also been extended to the victim. The author referred to the girl as the “alleged victim”, implying that somehow there was now onus on her to prove that she had in fact been assaulted. Now I get the “cry wolf” argument here, that sometimes people do in fact manufacture allegations of a crime committed against them for any number of reasons – attention, revenge, bitterness, amusement, etc. In this case though, if what was alleged to have happened did in fact happen to this person, she has a long road ahead of her towards healing and recovery, and probably doesn’t need local media trivializing her trauma by saying “She says she was assaulted but we don’t actually believe her. We’ll see what the courts say before we’ll extend her the benefit of the doubt.”

False Familiarity

I recently flew to Toronto for a week on business, and our hotel had a pool but I had forgotten to pack swimming trunks. I stopped into a local mall and at one of the big name clothing stores found a pair of shorts that I wanted to try on. When I went to find the change rooms, I was met by a sales representative from the store. “I’m sorry, what was your name again?” she asked. I had not given her my name. I just landed in Toronto for the first time in my life several hours ago. We have never spoken before this exchange. When I told her my name, she quickly replied with a warm smile, “Oh, now I remember. Right this way please.” Once secluded  within the walls of the small change room I thought to myself, “I’ve never met this woman before in my life – why would she claim to remember my name as though we were old friends? Is it possible I might have known her from somewhere else and I’ve simply forgotten her? After all, I’m working in a city not my home, maybe she used to live elsewhere and our paths had crossed somewhere?” As I was trying on the shorts I overheard in the hallway the voice of the same woman engaged in the exact same conversation with another patron. “What was your name again?” … “Oh right, now I remember.” The light bulb clicked on. I have never met her before, and neither has the guy she’s talking to now. She is merely inducing a method of establishing a false sense of familiarity to boost her sales quota, and/or using a form of loss prevention whereby the reasoning might be that if the salesperson knows your name you are less likely to try to leave with unpaid merchandise. It’s no different than stores like 7-Eleven installing bells on their doors and requiring their staff to greet every visitor who enters because the theory is that  acknowledgement of their presence makes less likely shoplifters.

In retrospect, perhaps I should have called her on it, but I was in a hurry and it’s much easier to rant about it later. The swim shorts do look nice though…