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Undergraduate examines media coverage of rape

Arianny Cabrera studies a disturbing issue in American society: how the news media covers a rape case. In many instances, she says, victims end up receiving the blame. She wants to understand when and why this happens.

Cabrera, a Binghamton senior who is double majoring in sociology and philosophy, politics and law, found that the race of the attacker and whether or not the victim was drinking or drugged has an effect. She published her findings in the campus’ undergraduate research journal Alpenglow [1] and presented a poster session about them during Research Days last spring.

For her study, Cabrera developed a coding system that consists of a checklist of different phrases and content that reflects how much positive or negative language a particular article uses. Negative language downplays a case, shifting blame away from the attacker and toward the victim, whereas positive language supports the victim’s stance.

First, she compared convicted rapists Brock Turner, who is white, and Corey Batey, who is African-American. Both were college athletes whose cases happened around the same time. Media portrayal of Turner’s case used more negative language on average, whereas Batey’s portrayal used mainly positive language.

“They were very big on sexualizing [Turner] and making him seem like this handsome, great all-American swimmer,” Cabrera says. “I now know his GPA, his swim stats. It was very focused on extraneous information that benefited him, which wasn’t done as much for Corey Batey.”

Regarding voluntary drinking, she compared two cases from 2014. Both victims were drinking at a party, but one was drugged before being raped. The victim who was voluntarily drinking received more negative language in media coverage.

Cabrera says her research highlights the importance of the media’s effect on the public view. Turner spent three months in jail before being released; Batey has been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

“I want people to see how the language used in newspapers impacts how they see everything,” she says.

Cabrera accomplished her research through the Binghamton Independent Undergraduate Research in the Humanities (IURH) program. “Her research topic is very emotionally sensitive to a lot of people,” says Diana Gildea, Cabrera’s research mentor and IURH coordinator. “She didn’t shy away, and I respect and admire her courage to tackle this kind of issue.”

Cabrera, who is from Queens, participated in the law and humanities program and mock trial throughout high school, both of which led her toward pursuing a law career. Eventually, she says, she may want to become a prosecutor.

She plans to go to law school after she graduates a year early in the spring of 2019. There she may continue her research. “I would have to bring it more into the law field, which I’m excited about,” says Cabrera, who was elected president of Binghamton’s Thurgood Marshall Pre-Law Society. “I wanted to do that to begin with.”

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