Yesterday at 12:30 a.m. Lafayette Police found a 21-year-old woman’s body in a drainage ditch at Girard Park. The woman has been identified as Alexandria Shelton.
The cause of death remains unclear; however that’s not stopping local news outlet KATC from jumping right into victim blaming in this distasteful article by Akeam Ashford.
The article has since been removed from their website, but here’s some screen shots:
What is victim blaming?
“Victim blaming is a devaluing act where the victim of a crime, an accident, or any type of abusive maltreatment is held as wholly or partially responsible for the wrongful conduct committed against them.”
Usually when unusual and horrific events like this arise, news outlets focus their articles on case details, sympathy for the victim’s loved ones, or general safety reminders. However, in KATC’s insensitive article, they decided to take a different approach.
The article started the BS when they quoted Lafayette Corporal Paul Mouton saying, “Crime is about opportunity. If you create that opportunity, you create the opportunity of you becoming a victim.” The article continues with, “Corporal Mouton says this morning’s discovery is a reminder that while the park is always open, you shouldn’t leave yourself open to becoming a victim of a crime.”
I just want to remind Mr. Mouton that while crime may be about opportunity, the victims are never at fault for “creating” that opportunity. The only person to blame for crime in the criminal.
Mouton goes on to give us advice about nighttime safety at Girard Park: “Especially at night, if you’re going to be in the park area, you should always travel with a friend or buddy. I also suggest to always have a cell phone nearby just in case you need to call police.”
With this case being so undeveloped, I feel like Mouton’s comment was inappropriate. I appreciate his effort to remind the community of general safety tips; however, the way he went about it with this comment and the previous comment were not okay. He made it seem as if Shelton wasn’t abiding by these common safety precautions.
Let’s be clear, we don’t know what this young woman was doing at the time, we don’t know who she was with, we don’t know if she took the precautions Mouton is advocating, and we don’t even officially know if this was foul play. We simply have no idea what happened, and it’s disturbing that a reputable news source like KATC would manipulate an article into blaming this poor woman for being “careless.”
I also think it’s worth mentioning that this woman probably had her phone on her and either lost it or had it taken since it’s playing such an integral role in the case.
Now here’s where I want to tear my hair out:
KATC interviewed Jennifer Brown, a student at UL, about her thoughts on the case.
The article wrote, “Brown agrees with the officer. She said she never goes out at night alone, and if she has to, she prefers to be with a male.” Brown said, “Everybody’s familiar of Mickey Schunick; she was out late at night too and look what happened. Females are just targets for predators in general.”
As a woman, I understand why Brown would agree with the officer. It’s drilled into women’s brains that we need to be in constant fear of the unknown. We’re encouraged to carry pepper spray, take self defense classes, never go out alone, etc.
However, there are two parts of her statement that pain me. First, she jumps right into bringing up and blaming Mickey Shunick for being abducted and murdered. She follows it up with, “Females are just targets for predators in general.”
I will say that Brown was just the unlucky lady chosen to be featured in this article. While her comments upset me, I think it’s important to know that her opinions are, unfortunately, popular ones caused by society’s attitude on these issues.
Regardless, I do want to clear up a couple things for people who think this way:
1. Like Shelton, Mickey Shunick was not at fault for her fate. Shunick is not at fault for being abducted and murdered. She wasn’t murdered because she was out late riding her bike, she was murdered because someone murdered her.
2. Women have the right to the same life as men, meaning we don’t have to go into hiding, lock our doors, and pray for morning light once the sun goes down. As human beings, we have the right to go outside whenever we want (alone or with company), and we have the right to feel safe doing so. It’s disgusting that instead of sympathizing with the victim or calling on our community to give women their right to safety, we engage in victim blaming and complete disregard for the victim and her loved ones.
Victim Blaming is usually used to help people regain control and stability in their own lives after horrific events. Things like this body being found and the Mickey Shunick case are events that haven shaken the Lafayette community; so a need for security is understandable. See, Victim blaming is a self-defense mechanism used to say “oh well, they were just careless. Surely if I take the right precautions nothing will happen to me if I do the same things they were.”
However, when we do this we forget that the body found at Girard Park was a real person. We purposefully forget that she could have been just like us. Instead, we make her “special” and “careless” because we’re afraid someone will do the same to us (because well…they can.) Because of how we react, we make it “okay” to put blame on victims of any crime rather than blaming the real culprit fully.
It’s frustrating that a news station like KATC continued this cycle by centering their article and quotes around victim blaming. I only hope that KATC will learn from this and not manipulate their articles to blame victims again.
I challenge Lafayette and anyone with similar circumstance to find peace not by victim blaming, but rising up to make their community a safer place.
My heart goes out to the victim, her family, and her loved ones. I would like to apologized to them on behalf of this disrespectful article and let them know that there is outrage over how KATC presented it. I would also like to tell them what this article failed to do: accident or foul play, this was not your friend/relative/daughter’s fault.
If you have any information that would aid the investigation, you’re encouraged to contact LPD at 337-291-8200 or Lafayette Crime Stoppers at 337-232-8477.
I would like to remind anyone still reading that if you are as outraged as I am then you need to let KATC know how you feel. Change will not come unless you demand it. I hope you realize that your voice is very powerful in these situations and with enough of an uproar we can see some change within KATC and the Lafayette community.
Here is a link to KATC’s contact page. I suggest emailing the following with how you feel on the situation: Site Content (firstname.lastname@example.org), Andrew D. Shenkan (email@example.com), Letitia Walker (firstname.lastname@example.org), and Kelly Garrett (email@example.com).
When I originally wrote this article, KATC’s article was still up. They have since taken it down. Now it’s time for an apology.
Tell them three things:
1. That you’re upset with the article “Families Enjoy Day In Girard Park Despite Body Found Hours Earlier.”
2. Explain what is wrong with the article, what “Victim Blaming” is, and why it’s hurtful to our society, this case, and this woman’s loved ones. (If you don’t know how to express your feelings feel free to link them to this article.)
3. Demand a public apology.
If you’re not into email, let KATC know how you feel by making a post on their Facebook Page.
You can also contact the author, Akeam Ashford, about his article here.
Remember when you contact these people to be professional and explain your point calmly. Many people (even news crews) don’t understand what they’re doing or why it’s wrong. No one is going to listen to your important message if you’re too angry.
UPDATE: KATC has since apologized for the article.
UPDATE: “The Lafayette Parish Coroner’s Office says there is no evidence of foul play in the death of a Lafayette woman at Girard Park.” (source)