Victims On Trial


handcuffs-354042_640.jpg“Former Cop, Daniel Holtzclaw, Convicted on 18 Counts for Sexually Assaulting Black Women”.

What do you mean ‘who’s Daniel Holtzclaw’? It’s been all over the – oh wait. Okay, I’ll fill you in.

Daniel Holtzclaw is a former police officer from Oklahoma City. While working as an officer of the law, he used his position to and rape and sexually assault women. Holtzclaw was very particular about his victims, they were all black and all women who could be described as being on the fringes of society (sex workers, drug users and/or those with criminal records).

Originally charged with 36 counts of sexual assault, Holtzclaw has been convicted of 18 and will be sentenced in January.

Clearly he is an evil, calculating predator. He was careful to choose vulnerable women, women he knew would either not report his crimes for fear of criminal retribution related to their own past misdemeanours, or women who, if they did report him, would have had their complaints dismissed on the sole basis of the colour of their skin.

Luckily, celebrities, journalists and others have been shining a spotlight on misogyny recently, and the tireless work of the Black Lives Matter movement has brought issues around racism to the fore, so when this case came to light, the amount of media attention and public condemnation of Holtzclaw was overwhelming.

Overwhelmingly silent.

In fact, had it not been for my slight addiction to Facebook I may never have heard about this case at all.

At first I figured it was just a UK thing, you know, I’m out of the loop because I don’t live in the States, but this week I’ve read stories in UK newspapers and websites about a woman who had to put up with another passengers bare feet on her armrest throughout her flight (Chinese news story); the purchase of a rare Wu Tang Clan album by smug-faced dipshit Martain Shreli (American news story) and Michelle Obama’s rap debut so…

Then (via social media again) I read that Americans were also unhappy with the lack of coverage of the Holtzclaw case so I went back and checked where I had first heard about the case and where most of the (few) posts about it were coming from. With the exception of the Huffington Post, the information I received was mainly shared by people who had reposted the story from sites like The Root, News One and other black websites. Indeed, on the day he was convicted I read about it via a post from For Harriet.

I have since Googled to story and The Guardian, The Independent, BBC News and even the Daily Mail if you can believe it, had mentioned the case, but with the exception of the Daily Mail, I follow those news outlets on social media and never saw a post about it. Perhaps I wasn’t looking hard enough, or maybe I just missed them. It’s possible.

Today I’ve seen that Channel 4 News and other major news outlets are now also running the story.

I suppose there may have been more coverage of the case in its early days had there been a bigger outcry from the public. Maybe the public would have made more noise about it if there was more coverage in the media. It’s a catch 22.

When researching the media coverage of this case, I came across one of case-law-677940_640the saddest things I’ve had the misfortune to read. It was a piece that appeared in BBC News Magazine:

The story was huge when it broke, so local FOX25 reporter Tom George was surprised when he walked into the courtroom for the first day of Holtzclaw’s trial last week. “The first week, it was almost empty,” says George. “I think there was an assumption that it would be packed”.’

Thirteen accusers, 36 counts of sexual assault and hardly anyone took an interest.

It gets worse.

OKC Artists organised support for the women after seeing, not only the lack of media attention but also the lack of a supportive presence in the courtroom at the beginning of the trial. The article states:

“The founders of OKC Artists also say that since the news broke over a year ago, they’ve reached out to many, larger national groups (they declined to name any) about joining their protest movement around the case, but received little response. The lack of interest from media, from the general public, from local churches and from other activist movements has been baffling for Franklin, and is playing out once more in the mostly empty rows in the courtroom”.

It goes without saying that had the accusers been upper-middle class white professionals or homemakers, media interest and public interest and sympathy would have been rife, but add to this the fact that the women were connected to drug use, prostitution and other such “anti-social” behaviours and we have a double dose of ‘who cares?’.

law-1063249_1280I’m reminded of the Ipswich murders in 2006. All reports about the murders led with the fact that the victims were prostitutes, stripping them of their true identities and, in my opinion, subtly suggesting that their occupation was a justification for their fate. A drama about the murders entitled ‘Five Daughters’ served as a reminder that the victims were human beings above everything else; human beings who had been the victims of an awful crime.

Similarly, there’s the case of ‘The Grim Sleeper’, the name given to a prolific serial killer who operated in Los Angeles, California from the 1980s. The bodies of black women, some of whom worked in prostitution, were turning up all over the city.  All had been sexually assaulted prior to being murdered. For many years, no connection was made between the murders and even when police eventually realised the murders were the work of a serial killer they neglected to share this, and other important pieces of information with the victim’s families or the community. In a documentary entitled “Tales of the Grim Sleeper” Margaret Prescod, Founder of the ‘Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders’ explains that when her organization met with city officials about the murders, one response to their concerns was “Why do you care, he’s only killing hookers”.

Holtzclaw isn’t even 30 years old yet (he was convicted on his 29th birthday) but like all of us he has been tainted by society’s ability to react to certain victims of crime with a coldness that would make a psychopath shake his or her head in disgust.

In short, he used society’s prejudices to help him perpetrate and almost get away with his crimes. He’s not the first to do this and, if things carry on as they are, he won’t be the last.

Holtzclaw has received his guilty verdict and will be sentenced in January but what about the rest of us? The editors who decided that the story wasn’t “newsworthy”; the so-called feminists, the majority of whom were mysteriously silent about the case? The churches and organisations that were aware of the case but chose not to get involved? The tweeters and Facebookers who scrolled past the story in favour of some mundane, ‘nothing’ article about celebs or cats? The bloggers like me who should have been continuously all over this story from the start…

What will our sentence be?

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