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If It Looks Like A Duck: The L.A. Times takes police badges into consideration before accusing two men of “rape”

On January 4, 2013 there was an article published in the Los Angeles Times about suspicious crime in their Police Department. The two men pointed at were retired policemen Luis Valenzuela and James Nichols. The two men were accused of threatening four women with jail time if they did not have sex with them. The Times used every other word you can imagine to describe the crime including “sex crimes” and “forced sex,” but refrained to ever utter the word “rape.” There are three other noted accounts where the Times published articles about different officers involved in the same kind of “sex crimes” and not accused of rape. It wouldn’t be so bad if the Times never used the word rape when talking about sexual assault, but there are countless articles published accusing people of rape who aren’t on the police force. The way that the Times chooses to script these articles is equivocal and is engaging in a dangerous form of rape culture by using digression not practiced for those without a badge. Rape is a crime and it should get the attention it deserves regardless of who is being accused.

What is more, the L.A. Times did not question why it has taken up to three years to have this case investigated. The L.A. Police Department has been making excuses, which haven’t been questioned by L.A. Times, such as one of the victims “couldn’t be located” or that another victim was displaying “erotic behavior while in custody.”

Rania Khalek, “Calling Rape by Its Right Name: In L.A. Times, suspects with a badge get a pass,” FAIR, February 1, 2014

Student Researchers: Christina Sabia & Laura A Parada, Indian River State College
Faculty Evaluator: Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D., Indian River State College

The ethical problem raised by this story is that these two men were not being accused of raping the four women because they were police officers. The newspaper decided to sugar coat the article to make it sound like the crime these two officers committed was not as bad as rape by using words like “sex crime” while at the same time, they wrote articles about many other “sex crimes” and used the word “rape” when not talking about officers who committed the crime. This is an ethical problem because it is making an exception for two people based on their job. The image of a police officer in most people’s eyes is someone who is supposed to help us and keep us safe, and I think there was some bias in this story to try to maintain that image of the LA Police Department in the people of Los Angeles’ minds.
These two officers did not treat these women as persons who are worthy of respect, but rather as a means to sexual pleasure. If what the women did was unlawful (two of the women were sex workers), then a legal remedy should have been applied such as a fine or arrest. The officers tried justifying forcing these women to have sex with them by ascribing an ulterior motive to them. They lured the women into an unmarked police car by threatening them with jail time and took turns having sex with them while the other officer acted as a look out. Obviously, these two men raped the women. Why should they be treated any differently than anyone else who has committed rape? Why should their case be glossed over by the Los Angeles Times because they are police officers? The answer lies most likely in the actions that the Police Department made to “cover their tracks,” including the possibilities of a payoff or a quid pro quo between the LA Police Department and the Times.

Clearly, what the police officers did was wrong. They used deception and manipulation to get “sexual favors” from the women. Whether or not the word “rape” should be used depends on the definition of “rape” in that state. The definition of rape in the California Penal Code as it may apply to this case states:

Where the act is accomplished against the victim’s will by threatening to use the authority of a public official to incarcerate, arrest, or deport the victim or another, and the victim has reasonable belief that the perpetrator is a public official.

Clearly, these two officers committed rape. The definition is exactly what occurred in this case, and the fact that the Times chose not to use it is unfortunate. To make matters worse it was not the first time. They failed to call rape by its proper name in other articles published about police officers and public officials who committed similar crimes in the past. The Times clearly has a pattern.

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