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  1. #1
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    How much information? Cleveland, the media, and the public's need to know

    Good article in The New Yorker I posted on the Berry-DeJesus-Knight general thread. (Caveat: when author Sasha Weiss discusses the Coetzee novel, the first quotation from it may be disturbing.) Weiss asks if the preponderance of information we learn when reading the grim details of true crime can in fact damage us.

    In the excerpt from Natascha Kampusch's book about her eight year ordeal, she voices the same concerns, this time from the perspective of a victim of a kidnap/hostage victim. How much is too much? In terms of the victims, is there a point when should just we leave well enough alone?
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    If the public feels a certain possessiveness over the innocent victims, it also feels possessive over their abuse. There’s a sense that we have the right to know all about it. As soon as the victims are interviewed by the police, parts of their testimony are leaked out and are instantly canonized as emblems of evil and perversity. There are many more horrific moments and by now they’re widely known, so there’s no point in listing them here. The details themselves take on a stock quality, making it easy to imagine what went on inside the house on Seymour Avenue before we’re even told. But it doesn’t stop many people from continuing to ask questions and wanting to know more.
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    I can’t help asking, for whom, and for what purpose, were these details publicized? Why do I need to know what I now know?
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    The Cleveland victims: Our hunger for the obscene details (New Yorker)

    After kidnap: Natascha Kampusch on being freed after 8 years in captivity (Guardian)
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    Outside, a media feeding frenzy raged. Pictures of my dungeon appeared in the newspapers. The concrete door stood wide open. My precious few possessions – my diaries and the few items of clothing – had been uncaringly thrown around by the men in white protective suits. I was forced to watch as my tiny private world, locked away for so long, was splashed across the front pages. Everything I had managed to hide, even from the kidnapper, had now been dragged out into the public eye, which cobbled together its own version of the truth.
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    But despite my openness, the media wouldn't let go. One headline followed the next, and more and more absurd speculations dominated the reports. It seemed as if the horrible truth by itself wouldn't be horrible enough, as if it had to be embellished above and beyond any bearable degree.
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    the rest at the links above

    There's a certain voyeuristic quality when reading about any crime. I've read scores if not hundreds of true crime books, and more reports than I care to remember about crimes in the newspapers and magazines.

    The question: how much do we, the public, have a right to know, and how much do we need to know? Is there a point in learning of the prurient details of what went on? At what point is that information too much information? At what point are both the victims, and the reader, damaged by the facts of what took place?
    Last edited by wfgodot; 05-12-2013 at 09:19 PM.

  2. #2
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    shadowraiths is offline LISK Liaison, Verified Forensic Psychology Specialist, infoSec Architect
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    Quote Originally Posted by wfgodot View Post
    The question: how much do we, the public, have a right to know, and how much do we need to know? Is there a point in learning of the prurient details of what went on? At what point is that information too much information? At what point are both the victims, and the reader, damaged by the facts of what took place?
    Unfortunately, and imho, our society seems blood hungry. A perfect example of this is the law Florida passed wrt Dale Earnhardt autopsy photos, and why it even needed to be passed. Who needed to see those and in what way do they help? No one and nothing, is my answer. We've sadly lost respect of people's boundaries.

    We do the same with crime stories. Whether it's people gathering to gawk and scream at the Anthony family, or tabloids releasing the latest sensational tidbit of cruelty. And yet, even with all that is released, unless one has experienced the torture that not only these victims, but victims, world-wide, experienced we cannot truly know.

    I admittedly sometimes wonder, do we really need know all the gritty details to have compassion for victims? Has our society become so jaded that, unless the crimes are especially gruesome, the outrage just isn't there? It's not newsworthy? Not important enough for us to give it and the victims even a passing thought?

    In the end, and to my mind, the take away from stories like this is not to give up on the missing. Bc just maybe, they too, are alive somewhere. And I wonder, is there a way to become more aware? Bc in story after story, neighbors and family seem totally oblivious. And yet, story after story reveals tell-tales. Yes, I know. Hindsight, but still. Importantly, we don't need the gruesome to notice these tell-tales. Esp the more blatant ones. That is, if we're paying attention.

    ETA ~ I, personally, think that digging for the gruesome details victimizes the victims.



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  3. #3
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    Thank you wfgodot and shadowraiths for posting these comments, as they really ring true for me. There is certainly a bloodlust deep within we humans; and for some it is clearly more dominant and perverse than for others.

    In observing cases like this, I suspect we the public require fairly minimal, appropriately censored information, as the key features of this case for us are: 1) the victims are free and receiving appropriate care, 2) the perpetrator is in custody, and 3) we know the legal investigation will be thoroughly prepared and properly executed within the established legal system, in which we have to place our trust. We know that if any other crimes were committed where DNA or other evidence links AC, then we will learn this.

    Respect and dignity for the victims of crime, and the families and friends of both victims and perpetrators (who are so heavily impacted), is of utmost importance. I find the media surveillance of these women and child, and the families and friends of both victims and perpetrator is impossible to accept. Sensationalism in headlines sells newspapers and magazines, but it has a serious cost to society – the points of which you outline above (risks to the victims and to the readers). And it is also responsible for vigilante behaviour which is entirely unacceptable, and which we are starting to see in this case.

    In Australia we are never privvy to key information leading up to a court case, and after the fact only to information which is considered appropriate for release, by the court. There is no concept of "public right to know" as the focus is on the victims, perpetrators and our legal system ensuring that justice is served by a fair trial. If critical information is released or media figures propose hypotheses on the crime, then we consider a fair trial cannot be held as potential jury members may have been influenced by exposure to misinformation and bias.

    You can imagine I find the American system quite startling. Posters on WS have explained to me why they think the US system is superior; I do not have to agree. I do not consider censorship in certain extraordinary circumstances is wrong. Why should we need to know every grim detail of these women's ordeal, other than to satisfy our bloodlust and curious nature? Who does it benefit? Who does it harm? Without a doubt the future lives of these women will be affected by what society knows of them, be that in both positive and negative ways. And that is not of their own doing – they are not 'celebrity' by their own choice. Surely my right to information is shadowed by their absolute right to live their life in as normal circumstances as possible? How do my rights even factor into this equation?

    Clearly I am reading and posting here. This is largely because I find the human psychology fascinating, and it is a resource for information. I am heavily involved in visual and historical research on the Holocaust – and in the process of this work have been exposed to information and images that are beyond comprehension. I was invited to participate in the project for my expertise, and I do so because I recognise great benefit in the accurate documentation of such history – this type of material provides society with a perspective to prevent such atrocities in the future. I do not bury myself in images of barbaric torture, suffering, deprivation of human rights and lack of respect for human beings to satisfy my own morbid curiosity, it is for a higher purpose. If anything, by necessity I have become anaesthetised and somewhat unaffected by the things I see in the context of that research – if I crumble I am of limited benefit to the project. That in itself has implications.

    So when we/the media seek to know the intimate details of the experiences of these women, what is the higher purpose? Is there possibly one? I cannot see it.

  4. #4
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    I think especially with today's online media and open comments on these stories, there is not an appropriate place for crime details, particularly with named victims. And the early reports with little or misreported facts, between articles and sometimes within the same article have really become ridiculous.

    I'm glad these women were found. I think they deserve privacy, and I don't know why the general public needs to know much more now, before there has been an investigation and rulings. There are valid stories to share in how police handled the missing persons cases, and the domestic violence alleged against Castro, but I don't see how the details of the suffering of the kidnap survivors is our information to know at all.

  5. #5
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    I don't want to know any more than the women decide to tell, and don't want to know graphic details either way. Many things will come out at the trial I guess, but hope there can be privacy for the women. Especially since there is a child involved.

  6. #6
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    The articles I linked in the OP are good ones but it's not over-necessary to read them to speculate on the questions, btw.

    Thanks for the posts above!

  7. #7
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    the rest at the links above

    There's a certain voyeuristic quality when reading about any crime. I've read scores if not hundreds of true crime books, and more reports than I care to remember about crimes in the newspapers and magazines.

    The question: how much do we, the public, have a right to know, and how much do we need to know? Is there a point in learning of the prurient details of what went on? At what point is that information too much information? At what point are both the victims, and the reader, damaged by the facts of what took place?
    It depends on the victim and what they want to tell. I haven't read Jaycee's book but apparently she tells some details that others may not feel comfortable telling. And she did it for victims of violent crime, that they should not be ashamed of what happened to them. ( or something like that) I followed that case on websleuths but didn't want to read the book. I don't want nightmares...
    Natascha obviously doesn't want people to know, and her case is different. I just read up on the latest, the police files etc. and it seems she may not have told the whole truth. Perhaps she feels she is protecting herself by doing that.

    Michelle, Gina and Amanda need to tell what they want to tell.

    The media will tell and speculate whatever they can find. Fair or unfair?

    Natascha said she felt violated having her home shown, clothes strewn around where they (police) had placed them. They didn't ask her permission to show that photo to the world. I understand her feelings there.

  8. #8
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    This weekend it was almost as if many of the stations were on a "break"..because they were replaying the whole ordeal they went through; all the interviews from anyone involved and it really seemed wrong to me. To air it all again over and over. Mainly I noticed cnn airing ALL the details again and again. I kept wondering where the coverage of LA parade shooting was; then I realized it was all taped and it wasn't even live news. Does any one else miss the 24 hour cycle of real news, because I do!
    Dont Be A Sheep

  9. #9
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    I hope we have a revolution in our culture very soon defining explicitly what "newsworthy" means. To me, crime does not make an event essentially newsworthy, and my gut-feeling is that there are many other newsworthy events happening where public knowledge of such could actually have an impact that aren't reported.

    I was mentally thanking our locally NPR affiliate for airing the revisitation of "Teenage Diaries" in depth, when it was followed by a completely unnecessary, graphic description of an accidental traffic fatality that impacted no one beyond the driver, who was immediately taken into custody, and the victim and their respective families and any witnesses. There wasn't even a traffic slowdown. Why does the public need to know anything of this event from the local news, much less the graphic details? Why does the news think the public needs to know this information?

    I wish I was coming at this from a place of answers, or at least suggestions, so that my comments could be more constructive. But I struggle with this regularly and consume very little news. The best I've come up with is to substantively encourage some introspection about what is "news." The program Living on Earth is one that I find I can follow and feel like I needed the information. But when it comes to day to day local and national news, I'm quite at a loss.

  10. #10
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    I'm seeing two separate questions in the OP that I want to comment on.

    How much do we need to know about these girls, their abduction and their release.

    I will admit to a curiosity about the case. I will admit it I am hugely curious about the case. How they were abducted, what happened during their captivity, how are they doing since release.

    But something happened soon after Amanda and Gina were released from the hospital. One of the families (maybe Gina's?) talked about how she (Gina?) wanted to see the sun. Something she had been denied for years. So they took her into the backyard. But right away they had to hustle her back inside because a news helicopter flew over the house.

    That broke my heart. Were they released from one captor only to become captives of the media?
    I now understand that my curiosity needs to be restrained to allow for those girls to their privacy. A privacy they need to heal and get stronger. A privacy they deserve. I will live my life as usual if my curiosity is unsatisfied. But those girls stand to lose a lot if efforts are made to satisfy my curiosity.

    I applaud the way national media is backing off. I can only hope that other media is also backing off.

    How does following true crime affect me personally?

    LOL I used to be so na´ve. Much less so after reading here. At times that is helpful and at times it isn't. I am more likely to pay attention to what is happening around me, I am more curious (yeah lets call it curiosity) about what is happening in my neighbors homes. And I am more observant about who is in my kids and grandchild's life. But sometimes maybe I am overly mistrustful. And sometimes I worry needlessly. But I am also more observant about people and my ability to do character assessment is better. And I am more likely to trust my instincts.

    ETA: Reading true crime and being here has also helped me to find resources. For instance I was unaware of the sex offender lists being public until I started reading here. Being here also showed me the importance of the lists.
    Last edited by mysteriew; 05-13-2013 at 12:44 PM.
    Just when I think that I have seen the most depraved things a human can do to another human, somebody posts a new story...........

    Why is it that when a custodial parent fails to provide for a child it is called neglect and is a criminal matter. But when a non custodial parent fails to provide it is called failure to support and is a civil matter?


    "Just when the caterpillar thought its world was over, it became a butterfly" ~ Michelle Knight


  11. #11
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    After a near lifetime of reading true crime tomes, good books and bad, I try to limit myself these days to infamous, unsolved crimes of the past - the Cleveland torso murders of the 1930s - the "Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run" case - say, or, especially, Jack the Ripper. Still though - do I really gain as a person by knowing, for example, the specific injuries inflicted on the Ripper's third canonic victim, Long Liz Stride? At least with the cases being still unsolved, it lets me play at detective, I guess, and the principals in the cases are long since dead.

    But still.

  12. #12
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    Being local, I have split feelings on this.

    As far as what the girls went through I think I want to know what they want to tell us when they want to tell us. It is a shame they feel all this pressure at a time when they should be able to finally revel in their freedom. If they choose to share some things it could be very helpful and powerful for them if they are able to do it on their terms in their own way, but each woman will have to make that decision on her own of how much to share, if any, and when.

    On the other hand, I want to know EVERYTHING about the investigation pre-escape. I want to make sure if things were missed, we learn from that as a community. Not just with the police, but with his employer, CMSD also. I want to make sure if there are other living victims they can be identified and get the help they need. I want to know if Mr. Colon, who Castro accused of harming his children, was wrongfully convicted.

    I want to know where Ashley Summers is.

  13. #13
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    Interesting take on the subject, from the Chronicle: Understanding Evil
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    By representing atrocity, are we giving voice, and therefore respect, to the victims who have been silenced? Or are we sensationalizing the private stories of those who have already been violated? When we take evil that is beyond understanding and put it into words, are we bringing healing clarity to the raw confusion of trauma? Or are we falsely packaging and simplifying something that ought never to be reduced, translating inexpressible evil into something common just for the sake of sharing a story?
    ---