10 Oct 2018

The Zefyri rape case -- when media puts the victim on trial

Coverage of the Zefyri rape case by some news outlets in Greece have turned the crime into a press spectacle and blamed the victim for the brutal violence she suffered. 

Dialekti Angeli
Dialekti Angeli NewsMavens, Greece
The  Zefyri rape case -- when media puts the victim on trial - NewsMavens
Hands. Pexels.com

When a young woman was brutally attacked and left to die in the street, Greek society was shocked. It was fortunate that the 22-year-old woman was spotted by passers-by and immediately transferred to the hospital, where she stayed in a coma for a week. The doctors who examined her reported that she had been violently raped numerous times. Following an investigation, the police arrested a 58-year-old man and charged him with rape.

However, the media has disregarded the evidence presented by the medical and law enforcement authorities and, instead,  turned the case into a sensationalist spectacle.

At first, it was reported that “according to police sources”, the young woman had probably taken drugs before she had been raped. More specifically claims were made that:

“According to police sources, the woman had probably taken drugs and, according to the evidence so far, she was then raped by unknown perpetrators”. In the same article we read that she did not have any external injuries and that a coroner’s examination would throw some light in the case.

On September 21, 2018, the Greek news agency APE-MPE reported that the girl had testified that she and her friend had visited the house of the accused, and, according to police sources, her friend left the place at some point, only to return three hours later to find the girl in a very bad state. He allegedly helped the 58 year-old to take her out into the street and then he called the ambulance.

The majority of the Greek media then began speculating about the victim’s habits and her way of life, claiming that she was a drug user, despite the fact that the doctors who examined her said that she displayed none of the signs of a chronic drug abuser:

Both doctors and criminologists believe that the woman has been the victim of multiple and violent rape, while stressing that she has none of the characteristics of a chronic drug user".

Nevertheless, the media kept on repeating these allegations of drug-addiction, without having any facts about their truthfulness.

Instead of sticking to the information given by the authorities about what happened that day and the victim's condition according to the doctors' announcements, the media went one step further. On the same day, the articles were furthermore “embroidered” with one additional aspect -- that the rape victim had psychological problems and that she had been previously hospitalized. A typical example, which combines both of the abovementioned points -- that she is a drug-addict and she has psychological problems --  is the following:

According to new information, the 22-year-old, besides being a drug user, also has psychological problems, and she was even hospitalized in a psychiatric institution three years ago.

This exact phrase has been reproduced by several media outlets, all without any verification of the information itself.

Even if this hospitalization is true, this is sensitive personal/medical data which should neither have been disclosed nor presented as relevant in this rape case. Reporting on alleged drug-addiction or psychological problems, especially when it becomes a widespread “detail of the case”, shifts attention away from the violence of the crime and onto the victim’s personal history, which then becomes a part of the public perception of the crime itself. This shift invites interpretations which, all to often, end up in victim blaming.

In addition, there have been articles and videos accompanied by photographs of the young woman, in which, even if her eyes are slightly blurred, she is still completely recognizable. The TV channel, STAR TV, which has dedicated a lot of air time to this case, has been presenting videos like this one, where personal photos of the victim are combined with movie clips. Aside from violating the victim’s privacy, the video erases the line between reporting on violent crime and creating a media spectacle.

The same TV channel released a photo of the victim taken from inside her room at the hospital, showing her intubated and in a coma. Also, in this other video, the spokesperson does not hesitate to say the name of the rape victim. Moreover, he even brags about his “exclusive” photo: 

Let's point out that her mother and grandmother recognized Helena from the tattoo photograph which we presented first in the STAR news bulletin.

This report, which borders on victim abuse, went even further in violating journalistic ethics by revealing the personal data of the young woman who had suffered a traumatizing violent crime, and was now being additionally exposed to the public eye.

The repeated focus on a victim's personal details, history, identity and behavior, gives the social and judicial mitigation to the attackers and downplays the severity of the criminal act of rape. In rape trials, it’s not uncommon to hear questions like: “What did you wear that day?", or "Did you give the impression that you were flirting with him?", which are based on one false assumption -- that the rape was somehow justified by something that the victim said or did. 

We can see the evidence of that effect in the comment sections of some of these articles. The repeated claims about her supposed drug addiction -- which were taken as a fact although they weren’t confirmed by the authorities -- turned the discussion into a “trial” of the victim in many of the online comments.  

Here, one user wrote

The rape is of little importance when someone has come to the point of falling into a coma from drug use”.

In another one, we read

She goes to her dealer's house to get drugs! How do we know that she didn’t consume the drugs on the spot? And how did she pay? [...] She herself puts her life at great risk! I wish she gets well and I wish she follows a better life from now on, especially after what she experienced”.

I want the guilty to be found and be punished as well, for what he did to the girl. But, she has gotten herself into a very grievous situation. Was she raped by the man from whom she gets drugs? She went straight to her doom."

She went to the dealer’s house alone and fell into a coma using drugs. Now try and prove how she paid for her dose. Or try and prove if he raped her or if she paid him that way”.

And the video by STAR TV received this comment on Youtube:

20 year-old junkie call girl, you get bonked by old men hahaha

These are just a few of many examples of what happens when media reporting is focused on the victim, instead of the crime. The singling out of any details of the victim's life which either implicitly or explicitly cast doubt on her credibility and provide an easy opportunity for the type of conclusions seen above. Claims such as that she was a drug addict who offered to pay for her fix with sex. These are the arguments that a rapist’s lawyer would make in a court case. Getting the public on his side is not what the media is supposed to do.

We therefore rate these examples as biased reporting which, sadly, contributes to creation and reproduction of rape culture.


Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

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