I’m extremely hesitant to publicly criticize our direct competition and do it rarely. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t cast stones, etc. I respect what they do, how many difficult decisions are made around the clock, how much margin for error there is.
But Torrington and communities like it all over the country are dealing with harmful misconceptions about rape, consent and how we treat women and girls. The media has a huge role in helping change the way we talk about it.
This morning’s front-page headline in the Waterbury Republican-American perpetuates those misconceptions. Rape is not “a tryst.” The word “tryst” should not be used to describe an encounter where an 18-year-old young man is alleged to have raped a 13-year-old girl after she repeatedly said “No” and after he pressured her to use drugs and alcohol.
It’s easy to use the wrong word on a topic that is so difficult, especially when you’re in a rush to get a newspaper out. But this comes after the Waterbury paper and our Register Citizen were (rightfully) criticized in a Poynter article for referring to the Torrington rape case as a “scandal.” I guess I’m mainly weighing in here to urge all of us to be more careful, more accurate, in how we write about rape, and not to give credence to the “blame the victim” mentality.
Seeing the case called a “tryst” this morning was particularly upsetting on Twitter, where the bullying of the 13-year-old victims played out in such a nasty way after two of the football players charged in the case were arrested in February.
Why “tryst” is a wrong, harmful word to use in describing rape shouldn’t need much explanation. But consider the common definition, “an arranged meeting of two lovers.” Other than nasty innuendo from bullying teenagers, we’ve seen no evidence in this case that this was an “arranged meeting of lovers.” Using the word buys into the “rape culture” mindset that if a girl comes over to your house, or drinks with you, or shows any kind of interest, you are going to get/are entitled to sex. And it’s really inappropriate to use after the fact to describe a case in which one of the girls said she told her alleged rapist “no” repeatedly. Step back from all of that, and consider that these were 13-year-old children, regardless of other circumstances, and “tryst” should not be part of the vocabulary.
UPDATE: The Republican-American changed the headline on the web version of its story sometime around mid-day following heavy criticism on social media. Republican-American Litchfield County Editor Ann Karolyi responded to the criticism in the online comments section under the story by saying, “the headline was not the best choice, and it has been removed from the online version because of the implications that word carries.”