The independent news organization of Duke University

Poor choice of words

I was disappointed in the choice of words used in the Oct. 28 Chronicle article “DUPD cop arrested on rape charges.” The victim reported that she was bound, gagged, possibly drugged and then raped. However, when describing this incident, the reporter uses the word “alleged” repeatedly: “the alleged attack,” “the alleged assault,” “the alleged rape” and “the alleged victim.”

I recognize that Officer Webster Simmons is innocent until proven guilty. I also recognize that recent events at Duke have shown that one should not rush to judgment in rape cases and that some rape allegations are false. However, I worry that we are creating an environment where all women who report a rape are presumed to be liars until they can prove otherwise. Having sex with a woman who is so drunk that she is passing out already meets the legal definition of rape, much less handcuffing her and gagging her.

I definitely do think that it is appropriate to say that Simmons “allegedly” committed the crime until he is convicted in a court of law, but assuming the police found her testimony to be credible, can’t we just say, “she was raped”? A cynic might suggest that the editors of the Chronicle believe that the reports of rape victims are inherently unreliable.

If we simply accept the principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty and avoid making inflammatory statements about the accused until they are convicted, then we can avoid tarnishing the reputation of an innocent person without casting doubt on the credibility of rape victims generally or discouraging other women from reporting incidents of rape.

Eric Bair

Adjunct assistant professor of biostatistics

School of Dentistry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Comments