Episode 21 – Who is the ‘Ideal Victim’?

Throughout season 1, we have discussed how society, often times through the media, blames survivors of sexual violence. Frequently, media portrayals impact trial outcomes, a survivor’s willingness to report, and more. In this episode, we speak to Dr. Danielle Slakoff, a professor and prominent researcher that studies the ways in which the media inaccurately portrays survivors of domestic violence and sexual harm. 

During the episode, we also talk about ‘the ideal victim’. According to her research and analysis of newspaper stories, women that are missing, that experience sexual harm or domestic abuse are portrayed differently based on race. The ideal victim has historically been white women and girls. They are frequently portrayed as being blameless and in need of protection. Black and Latina women, women that do not conform to this stereotype, are often blamed for the victimization. 

According to Dr. Slakoff’s research, Latina and Black women and girls were portrayed much more negatively than the white women and girl victims. Specifically, they were portrayed as risk-taking at the time that the crime occurred and somehow responsible for the harm they experienced. This deep dive into the ways in which the media influences the way we think about who experiences harm and why is a critical piece of a broader conversation about race and the criminal justice system. 

Additional Readings and Resources:

Media Messages Surrounding Missing Women and Girls: The “Missing White Woman Syndrome” and Other Factors that Influence Newsworthiness – Danielle C. Slakoff and Henry F. Fradella
A Timeline of 22 Year Old Gabby Petito’s Case – CNN
White, Black, and Latina Female Victims in U.S. News: A Multivariate and Intersectional Analysis of Story Differences – Danielle C. Slakoff and Pauline Brennan
How Social Media Shone a Light on the Lauren Smith-Fields Case – Time Magazine
The Black and Missing Foundation
Restoring Justice for Indigenous Peoples

Guest Bio:

Dr. Danielle Slakoff is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at California State University, Sacramento. Her research interests include media representations of women and girl victims and perpetrators, women’s issues within the criminal justice system, race/ethnicity, true crime, and domestic violence. Dr. Slakoff’s commentary on media portrayals of the justice system has been featured in outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Time Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @DSlakoffPhD. 

Follow us on Facebook at Beyond Fear: The Sex Crimes Podcast, on Instagram @beyondfearpodcast, and on Twitter @fearcrimes. If you have questions about this or any of our previous episodes, or if there is anything you’d like to know about our work, we hope you will email us at beyondfearpodcast@gmail.com or you can contact us on our site here.

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