Rape: media vs. police
The right to be informed
second in a series
By Carol Bartholdi
During 1977, there were 1,080 reported rapes in Houston; more than
twice the number reported in 1976.
Crime Analyst Gary Nathanson of the
Houston Police Department estimated
that there was one rape every eight hours.
These figures are conservative because the police department estimates are
based on reported rapes. They also estimate that only 40 per cent are reported.
(The FBI says that only 10 per cent of
rapes are reported.)
If the rape rate is so high, why do
we read so little about it in daily newspapers? Why do the local television and
radio station give us the details of car accidents, fires and murders, but seldom report on the high incidence of rape?
"There are so many, one by itself
isn't really news unless circumstances
make it so," said Phil Hevner, a police
beat reporter for the Houston Post.
"There are too many," said Christy
Drennan, police reporter for the Houston
Chronicle. "I could spend every day
down at rape squad. Usually when someone commits a long series, then we'll report on it. There must be an added element."
"One poor woman getting raped is
not a news story," said Mike Capps of
KPRC television news. "In my way of
thinking, it is the single hardest story to
cover as far as t.v. is concerned."
Capps stressed that the biggest concern is for the victims of rape. When a
story is written about a rape case, the
name and address of the woman are not
published. Rape is the only crime in
which the identity of the victim is concealed.
"There is so much emotion involved," Capps said.
"It is seldom that a reporter has
reason or occasion to speak to a rape victim," said Hevner, "because most are not
anxious to talk to the media."
Women often do not report rapes
and would like to avoid the media because they do not want their friends and
people they work with to know what
happened. Some want to avoid the ordeal
of a trial, and fear prying in to their personal lives. Sometimes the attacker was a
family friend or someone they work with,
and therefore they would like to avoid
The media show an "awareness of
the sensationalism that can be in stories
about rape," said Linda Cryer, director of
the Rape Treatment and Prevention Center. "If the coverage is not careful, and
extensive details are published, it would
preclude any reporting of rape by other
While the media do try to protect
the identity of women who have been
raped, they also feel a certain responsibility to report certain rapes to the community.
"You get back to the old conflict,"
said Judd Mcllvain, reporter for Channel
11 news. "The people's right to know and
to be cautious and protect themselves and
the police department wanting you to
hold off on reporting so they have a better chance to catch the guy."
Mcllvain said, the reporters hold
back on certain stories but that a series of
rape incidents creates a special situation.
"People have the right to know if the
rumors are true or not," he said.
logo of Houston Rape Crisis Coalition
"Rape should be publicized and politicized
in Houston because it is not being investigated
—Gail Padgett, co-director
Houston Rape Crisis Coalition
Mcllvain recently broadcast a story
about a series of seven rapes believed to
be committed by the same person. The
police were against any publicity about
the rapes. Mcllvain said he went to Montrose, to the area where these rapes had
been committed and asked a young woman who was walking alone if she was
aware of the rapes.
"She had no idea it was going on,"
Mcllvain said. "The rapist would have to
be pretty naive to think the police do not
know anything about him-that no one
had reported the rapes."
Most reporters feel that the people
of the community have a right to know
certain details of a crime so that they
may take precautions. If they do not
know that a rapist is operating in a certain area, they might not avoid that area
or be cautious.
This attitude often comes into direct conflict with the police desire to
keep details of a pattern quiet, so that
they may predict certain things about the
next crime and try to capture the man before he can commit another rape.
"They ask us not to print something every day," said Drennan. "They
think every crook in town reads the
Chronicle. I'm told that every single
"Where you have a series that appears to be done by the same person, the
police department is in a dilemma. You
want to tell everyone so that all are forewarned, but if you do you take the
chance that the person will disappear for
a while and surface later," said Vic Dris-
coll, Assistant District Attorney and a
board member of the Houston Rape Crisis Coalition.
Mcllvain said Lt. Larry Earls of
rape detail believes the press did have a
negative effect on at least one rape investigation in recent years. The press published reports of a rapist who ran into the
cars of women who were driving alone.
When the women stopped to exchange insurance company names with the man he
attacked and raped them.
After these attacks were publicized
the man stopped. However, some time
later a rapist with a similar modus operandi appeared in Dallas.
Mcllvain said reports on* the "beer-
belly rapist" had one effect, though the
rapes continued. "He went on a diet."
Gail Padgett, co-director of the
Houston Rape Crisis Coalition, said the
issue of rape* should be publicized and
politicized in Houston, because it is not
being investigated well enough.
"The police have been telling us
they do not have enough people to investigate rapes."
Padgett said she was at the police
department recently speaking to one of
the detectives on rape detail Two police
officers approached them, carrying a pair
of blue jeans. The zipper of the jeans was
covered with dried blood. They were
found at the scene of a rape in Montrose.
One of the officers suggested that they
should have been examining the scenes of
this series of rapes.
"The jeans had been there several
weeks and no one had been back since,"
Padgett said. "I see the ever-rising rape
rate as a bad thing against the police department, since it is the only major crime
that is rising so much. Why shouldn't efforts be concentrated on it?
"The media have not latched on to
this monstrously increasing rape rate. It
is still considered a woman's problem
rather than a community problem."
Padgett says it is a question of priorities. "Which of the city problems will
get money? Rape will not get the money
unless we can make a ruckus about it."
Padgett said Mayor Jim McConn's
firing of the women's advocate has placed
the burden of representing women's views
on the women employed by the city government. The Rape Prevention and Treatment Center is a city program, and therefore its director,. Linda Cryer, is in a
prime position to represent this concern
of women, she said.
"The city should be concerned with
the prevention of rape, and should put
more interest into such measures. If rape
were more of a political issue, it could
produce more staff and more money devoted to it," she said.
The Houston Rape Crisis Coalition,
a non-profit, all-volunteer organization,
also could be of help, Padgett said. Its
members, besides operating a hot line,
have spoken to groups of women at many
companies, schools and city departments
in Houston. It now is planning a seminar
about rape for employees of SETEC, a
large security firm which protects Galleria
and all Gerald Hines properties in Houston.
Carolyn Craven, a professional television journalist, is one person who has
gone to the media with the story of what
happens to a woman who has been raped.
Craven is a television reporter in San
Francisco. She reported on a series of 60
rapes believed to be committed by the
same man in the Bay Area. Last month,
this man sought her out, broke into her
home and raped her.
Craven, unlike most rape victims, is
not shunning the media. Jan. 30 she appeared on ABC's Good Morning, America program to speak about rape. She also
wrote a story about her experience and
the outrage, anger, guilt and shame a
woman feels after being raped. This story
was published in newspapers across the
Craven said she is using television as
her weapon to help stop rape. She wants
to encourage every woman who is raped
to report the crime to the police. "This is
the only way to stop it," she said, "to report it and get those men arrested for the
HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH February 1978 Page 3