Political correctness and a different kind of no-snitch code.
Our June 9 cover girl, Kathryn Battle, a Philadelphia police officer in the Homicide Unit, says that though the ‘no-snitch’ mentality hinders many of the PPD’s investigations, people break down and talk when a crime is particularly heinous. (Or when a handsome financial reward is offered.)
No-snitch came up time and again the last few weeks as the brutal details of three sexual assaults, one of which ended in murder, dominated local headlines.
It’s easy for people not living in the context of the code of the streets, sitting on what feels like the outside of so much senseless violence, to wonder how communities can simultaneously complain about unsolved crime and reserve details that may lead to an arrest.
But no-snitch isn’t just for thugs. It’s for PTA moms, teachers and, apparently, it’s also for the most middle-class of soft-rock enthusiasts. Instead of applying to crimes in the street, this broader brand of no-snitch applies to crimes in the home, and especially childhood sexual abuse. Instead of hiding behind physical threat (“snitches get stitches”) this kind of no-snitch cowers behind a polite rubric. It says to mind your own business, not to be nosy. But this socially mandated silence functions the same way the street version does, enabling crimes to become commonplace.
Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) estimates that 22,000 kids in Pennsylvania are sexually assaulted every year, though rape and sexual abuse data are always estimates because sexual assaults of all kinds are notoriously underreported. In industry lingo, the data is compromised by “dark and hidden figures.”
This polite, pinkies-out type of no-snitch is such a pervasive problem that a new strategy in the campaign against childhood sexual abuse targets adults.
With the help of a $250,000 grant from Sen. Robert Casey, PCAR designed the HERO Project campaign. The message is that adults have a responsibility to speak up when they suspect a child is being sexually abused. The TV commercial shows a little boy playing on railroad tracks. The train rumbles louder and louder then a voiceover asks, “If you thought a child was in danger, if you thought a child could be hurt, wounded, scarred for life, would you just turn away?”
The radio ad says: “I want to talk to you about a subject many people try to ignore—child sexual abuse. Each year in Pennsylvania thousands of children are sexually abused and most cases are never reported. Without help these children may have a lifetime of mental health issues. But there is hope—you. If you believe a child is being sexually abused, please visit heroproject.org or call 1.877.874.HERO.”
The spots began running June 1 on CNN, Discovery Channel, Fox News and Lifetime among other stations.
But popular local radio station 101.1FM “B101” (slogan: Makes you feel good!) refuses to air the campaign unless the words “sexual” and “rape” are deleted. (The word “rape” is said in the context of “sponsored by Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.”)
B101 is known for its bumblebee mascot and commercials featuring pleasant mom-types sitting at desks claiming B101’s soft rock helps them get through the day. Broadcasting since 1963, B101 is the only independently owned radio station in the local market and is a top-ranking station with more than 200,000 listeners.
According to PCAR Executive Director Delilah Rumburg, station manager Blaise Howard told her the station doesn’t take “explicit ads” because WBEB is a “straight-laced” company.
The station offered to run the ad if the words were removed, so mention of plain old childhood abuse is OK, but not when it’s sexualized.
Rumburg says: “Our statewide HERO campaign urges adults to ‘Be a hero. Step in. Stop abuse.’ by reporting suspected child sexual abuse … This message was in no way sexually provocative, but it also did not shy away from the issue at hand. Child sexual abuse is happening in our communities at an alarming rate. And pushing it ‘under the carpet,’ or off the airwaves is not helping to stop it.” Current estimates say 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused by the time they are 18 years old.
She adds: “If WBEB thinks our message is too scary for an adult to hear about child sexual abuse, imagine how difficult it is for a child to experience.”
What makes the irony too rich for my blood is that B101 is owned by Jerry Lee, a world-renowned supporter in criminology and social-science education.
On the website for University of Pennsylvania’s Jerry Lee Center of Criminology (founded in 2000 with Lee’s initial $5 million gift), the accolades and achievements listed include a nomination by the president and subsequent Senate confirmation as a member of the National Board of Education Sciences, which governs the “research arm” of the U.S. Department of Education.
He is also the founder of the Jerry Lee Foundation, a philanthropy dedicated to “reducing crime and enhancing education through research on what works to achieve these goals.”
Howard and Lee were unavailable for comment, but a press rep from B101 sent a statement released in response to PCAR’s statement urging listeners to contact the station to protest their decision.