‘Publishing a Rapist’s Perspective’: Emerald at Oregon Runs Piece by Registered Sex Offender
The Emerald at the University of Oregon recently published a piece grappling with issues involving college students and sexual violence — from a convicted perpetrator’s perspective.
The first-person essay was penned by a former UO student convicted of sexual assault for engaging in what he describes as “a nonconsensual sexual encounter with someone who was incapable of giving consent because of the influence of drugs and alcohol.” Emerald editor-in-chief Sami Edge tells me his write-up represents “a viewpoint that’s not yet been discussed during our coverage of sexual assault.”
In the anonymous essay — headlined “Memoirs of a Student-Criminal” — the individual reflects on his crime and its immense personal consequences including his arrest, conviction, probation, legal expenses, expulsion from school, social stigma and the requirement to register as a sex offender.
As he writes, “I thought that I wasn’t capable of doing something like that even if I was under the influence of intoxicants. I thought my morals and mindset would never make it possible for a situation like that to unfold. Unfortunately, I was wrong. … For whatever reason, guys think that we are part of some sort of free-for-all in college where any woman who will talk to you will also have sexual relations with you. This is most certainly not true and is part of an overwhelmingly toxic culture of this sort of behavior.”
In a letter to the editor headlined “The Problem with Publishing a Rapist’s Perspective,” Siren Magazine editors point out, “Never once does the author mention the fact that his actions — and the actions of all rapists — produced intensely damaging results for the survivor. In fact, the survivor is altogether absent from the article. The entire experience is made to be about him. He writes, ‘I had to keep my situation a secret from even my closest friends because of the embarrassment that [it] would have caused.’ We, as readers, are expected to feel sorry for him. He does not take responsibility for his actions, instead describing the rape he committed as an unfortunate event that ‘happened’ to him, a situation outside of his control, merely the world ‘crashing down on [him].'”
The separate fascinating twist to the provocative piece: The sexual assault offender was actually legally required to write it and submit it to the paper. The Emerald then of course had final say on whether and how to publish or post.
In a disclaimer atop the essay, editors explain, “This guest viewpoint from a UO student convicted of sexual assault was submitted to the Emerald as a stipulation of the perpetrator’s punishment through the Eugene Police Department. For the survivor’s privacy, the author of this piece will remain anonymous. According to the detective who submitted the piece, the survivor reviewed this essay prior to publishing. It was left unedited with the exception of the deletion of the word ‘partner’ in paragraph six. According to the detective, there was no ‘partnership’ between the perpetrator and the woman assaulted.”
In the brief Q&A below, Edge, the Emerald’s EIC, breaks down the decision-making and ethical considerations surrounding the piece’s publication.
What led to the decision to publish the essay? What purpose do you hope it serves?
Upon reviewing the letter, the Emerald’s editorial team agreed to run the viewpoint in print. We believed — and still do — that the letter holds strong educational value both in its illumination of a viewpoint that’s not yet been discussed during our coverage of sexual assault (that of a convicted perpetrator speaking out against the violent crime) and in its capacity as a warning. We decided to place a disclaimer at the top of the letter and to omit the word “partner” from the text — the detective told us the perpetrator and the victim had never been in a partnership and we perceived that word as skewing the entire submission in an untrue direction.
Ultimately, we strive to create a space for educated and informed discussion on topics important for our campus. We published the letter to add another important perspective to a very important discussion happening on our campus right now.
“Whatever the true feelings of the perpetrator at the time he penned this letter, his ultimate message is clear: Don’t commit sexual assault. We thought that was an important message to publish, especially coming from a convicted perpetrator.” – Sami Edge, Emerald editor-in-chief
Was it solely the survivor’s privacy that spurred the call to keep the writer anonymous? Otherwise, would you have required it be run with the writer’s name?
We didn’t want to take any risks on casting light on the identity of the survivor of this piece by publishing the author’s name. Her safety and anonymity was at the forefront of our conversations about this piece.
Were there worries about the authenticity of the writer’s message or remorse since he was basically required to express regret by law and had show it to the survivor beforehand?
Instead of receiving feedback on whether or not the author’s remorse was genuine, we’ve heard from community members that he doesn’t appear remorseful enough at all. In fact, the campus feminist publication even sent us a letter voicing their opinion that he doesn’t show nearly enough remorse for his impact on the life of the woman he hurt. Whatever the true feelings of the perpetrator at the time he penned this letter, his ultimate message is clear: Don’t commit sexual assault. We thought that was an important message to publish, especially coming from a convicted perpetrator.
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