Date of Award

8-1-2001

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication

Abstract

In 1989, a female jogger was raped, beaten and left for dead in New York City’s Central Park. Two years later, a woman was attacked on a beach in Palm Beach, Florida. She reported to police that she had been raped. Both cases were covered extensively by the media, but the press treated the victims very differently. Throughout their analysis, reporters painted the Central Park jogger as an innocent victim, while the woman who accused Smith of rape was depicted as a deserving tramp.

Assuming a primarily qualitative approach, this research used frame analysis to examine The New York Times coverage of the Central Park jogger and Smith rape cases. The study begins by discussing how news coverage divides female victims of male violence into two categories: innocent women; or women who provoked their own suffering. The study then analyzed why some rape victims are treated with reverence, while others are vilified. The theoretical premises of framing theory, focusing on the complex intertwining of race, gender and class, was then examined. The study developed through a systematic search for descriptive words and an analysis of the content of the selected articles looked for evidence of rape myths. Finally, the number of female and male reporters was discussed.

In an effort to decide if media coverage is responsible enough to warrant openly naming rape victims without their consent, the study ends with five conclusions. First, The New York Times articles about the Central Park jogger case and the Smith case did contain sexist descriptive words, though they did not appear as frequently as expected. Second, substantial e vidence supported the belief that reporters rely on rape myths to cover this crime. Third, there were so few females reporters covering these two cases that the researcher determined that a strong comparison between female and male reporters’ use of descriptive words and rape myths was not possible. Fourth, the researcher determined that female victims of rape are either treated like a “virgin” or a “vamp” by the news media. Finally, the study determined that the media is not responsible enough to warrant openly naming rape victims without their consent.

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