iMediaEthics recently came across an important ruling from the Australian Press Council. The ruling, issued this fall, correctly found a News.com.au article headline was inaccurate and unfair when it used the phrase “wild sex” to describe an alleged rape.
iMediaEthics detailed a few years ago about how standards in reporting on rape and assault advise against saying victims “had sex with” alleged attackers because that “implies consent.”
The News.com.au May 10, 2016 report was headlined, “Campaign for justice over death of Lynette Daley, left to bleed after ‘wild sex.'” The article reported on “tens of thousands of Australians” complaining over the way prosecutors dealt with two men who were charged in connection with the death of Lynette Daley, whose body was found “stark naked, bruised and bloodied” on the beach in 2011.
Ordinarily, iMediaEthics doesn’t name alleged victims of rape but given the woman is deceased and her name has been released related to the charges, we will use it. Reports earlier this year only referred to her as Norma “to protect the identity of her young family.” However, this spring her real name was released and has been used freely in stories and headlines about the case ever since to bring attention to her case. iMediaEthics has written to the coroner’s office for more information.
“An autopsy found she died from blunt force trauma to her genital tract, and had suffered horrific internal and external injuries after a violent sex act,” News.com.au reported. While the two men, Paul Maris and Adrian Attwater, claimed it was consensual “wild sex,” the coroner determined Daley’s 0.352 blood alcohol content indicated she couldn’t have consented to sex and “may not have even been conscious,” News Corp’s News.com.au reported.
The Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported that the two men were charged in June and pleaded not guilty in her death in December. The New South Wales Director of Public Prosecutions issued a statement in late June saying Attwater would be prosecuted for manslaughter and aggravated sexual intercourse without consent, and Maris would be prosecuted for aggravated sexual intercourse without consent and accessory after the fact to manslaughter.
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It would be fair for the media to characterize that as alleged rape. A spokesperson for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, NSW confirmed to iMediaEthics that “Aggravated sexual intercourse without consent is the charge used in matters where rape has been alleged.”
News.com.au added an editor’s note at the bottom of its story reading “This story has been updated to clarify that Adrian Attwater and Paul Maris told police they had engaged in a drunken night of ‘wild sex’ with Lynette Daley. The coroner has since found that, with an extremely high blood-alcohol reading of 0.352, there was no way Ms Daley would have been able to consent to the sex acts being performed on her.” The article also carries a note at the top, which discloses that the press council ruled against it and a link to the ruling.
The press council noted that News.com.au defended its use of “wild sex” because it was the fifth of six articles in a short period of time about Daley’s death and the article included the coroner’s comments about how Daley couldn’t have consented. However, the council argued that “the original article should be read independently, and that it cannot be assumed all readers would have read the later or earlier articles in the publication.”
“The Council considers that the heading and the first paragraph misleadingly and unfairly suggested Ms Daley had consented to sexual acts immediately before her death,” and as such, it broke accuracy and fairness guidelines, the council ruled. The editor’s note, however, sufficed in rectifying the matter, the council said.
iMediaEthics has written to News Corp. for comment.