This Man Was Raped
Michael Mineo is clear about what happened to him:
“It’s humiliating. I’m a man. I was raped by four men who held me down and put a baton into my rectum. How am I supposed to feel? There is no forgiveness.”
But it seems that journalists do have a problem saying that this man was raped, or even that this man alleges that he was raped. See, e.g., here and here. It’s not that they can’t say what, in precise detail, happened to him. In fact, the articles have described it graphically:
While they held him down to the ground and kicked and punched him, he alleges, one of the officers shoved a radio antenna up his rectum.
NYPD officials said Mineo had been smoking a joint as he walked down the street and then ran when officers – who are black, Hispanic and white – approached. They insist that witness accounts do not back up Mineo’s story that he was sodomized.
But several witnesses told investigators that Mineo’s pants were pulled down, exposing his buttocks. They said he screamed “What are you doing to me? What are you – a faggot?”
Mineo told investigators that one officer yelled, “No! No! No! Don’t do that!”
Turns out the instrument was a retractable baton, that left serious injuries. Mineo bled profusely, showed officers the blood, and kept telling them that he needed to go to the hospital. He was eventually hospitalized, and treated for a torn rectum. One officer has now testified consistent with Mineo’s account.
To my way of thinking, the trial offers only one possibility for acquittal: that the jurors dislike Mineo so much for his alleged gang activity (he is, among other things, accused of taking part is a serious beating of two teenage boys) that they decide he got what he deserved. I don’t expect that, actually. I would be very surprised and very saddened by that result. I expect convictions.
The trial is unfolding just like a rape trial. The whole defense strategy is to blame the victim and encourage the jury to judge him, instead of answering the question of whether the defendants did what they are accused of. He was raped, he was injured like a rape survivor, and now he’s being tried like a rape survivor. But the major news organs won’t say the dreaded R word. This is a persistent problem.
The papers can say that “rape” is a legal term in New York, and it only involves penis-in-vagina contact — which is true as far as it goes. But not every state even uses the word “rape” in its statutes. It’s an ordinary word, in addition to its legal meaning. That’s true of a lot of words — reckless, intentional, negligent, defame, slander, fraud, murder. They can be true in the ordinary sense whether or not they are true in the technical sense, and for journalists to hide behind the legislature is disingenuous.
I want editors to be up front about their style usage when it comes to the word “rape.” What they will and won’t call rape is part of what shapes public consciousness about what is and isn’t a rape narrative. Rather than guess and wonder, they should say it up front and let it be openly debated.
There are a lot more things to say about Mineo, but I want to focus here on the issue of word usage. The man alleges a rape. I think the newspapers should say that what he’s alleged is a rape. They largely have not, but they also largely have not said why.