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COMM 6910/8980: Politics of Injury: Trauma Communication (and Law) (Tim Barouch: Summer 2020): Case Study: "Justice in Indianapolis Rape Case"

Case Study: Going from a News Story to a Research Topic

This page focuses on a particular news story to provide an example of how an individual story can be spun out into a more in-depth research topic.

The story:

Starting from a particular news story, event, etc.,can be a good way of thinking your way into a broader research topic.

Questions you can ask to get you started:

  • What sources does this story already include? What kinds of sources does it point me towards?
  • What keywords might help me find more primary sources? And to find secondary sources to help contextualize this story and to help me find other sources?
  • What questions does this story raise for me?
    • These might be source-related questions (how do I find related sources? what other related, or similar, sources could I find?)
    • Or these might be more thematic questions (how does this story relate to course themes -- for example, media coverage of trauma, connections between trauma and law, how trauma is affected by the passage of time, and so on)
    • Or you may have other kinds of questions!

Primary Sources

Primary sources included in this story:

  • The story itself is a primary source (even though it came out in 2020, can still be read as a primary source because it closes the loop of the earlier story)
  • Crime scene and evidence photographs
  • McKnight's interview/recollections (functions as a kind of oral history)
  • McKnight's victim statement (print/text)
  • McKnight's victim statement (in video form) (how does watching/hearing McKnight read her statement compare with you reading the text of her statement?)
  • Timeline provided by the news organization

Primary sources alluded to in this story:

  • Police records (how available would these be? what information does this story provide about police materials and evidence? where is the victim's rape kit?)
  • Court records (how available would these be?) (Westlaw refers to the case and appeal here).
  • News articles or stories about the initial assault (challenge: how do you find news articles about a crime when you do not know the name of the victim? or of the perpetrator? note also that the 2020 story does not tell you what the victim's name was at the time the crime was committed -- but it does tell you the date of the crime -- so you could search in local newspapers for any reports on or after the date of the crime)

Primary sources not included in this story:

  • Personal communication or correspondence (what are the ethics of accessing or sharing personal communication, either from 1998, from 2016-2020, or from any other time?)
  • Social media** (McKnight wrote about the verdict in the closed Facebook group Pantsuit Nation -- what are the scholarly ethics involved in accessing social media posts in closed groups/pages?)

That Timeline: What's Missing?

The timeline provided by the news organization focuses only on the timeline of McKnight's attack and later case.

What it doesn't include are some broader cultural events that could help push this story out into a broader inquiry. For example:

  • June 2, 2016: Chanel Miller (then known "the Stanford rape victim") gives her victim statement in People v. Turner; her statement is disseminated internationally by media outlets in both print/text and video; her rapist Brock Turner served a minimal sentence.
  • October 2017: the New York Times and the New Yorker report that multiple actresses were accusing Harvey Weinstein on rape, and the hashtag #metoo begins to circulate heavily.
  • January 2018: Time Magazine publishes Aly Raisman's testimony (in print and in vdeo) against Larry Nasser for sexually abusing her and many other women at Michigan State University.
  • September 2018: Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testifies to a Senate Judiciary Committee about her allegations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had attempted to rape her when they were teenagers in 1982 (CNN posted her opening statement here).
  • September 2019: Chanel Miller publishes her memoir Know My Name.

These are all cases where victim statements were circulated in public forums, both in print and video forms.

The WTHR story indicates that McKnight's rapist is currently appealing his case based on the argument that "the judge improperly considered the nature of the crime and its impact on the victim as an aggravating factor."

Proposed research topic:

What role, if any, have publicly circulated victim statements played in shifting cultural beliefs about rape culture?

(Also a question: does this man have any actual basis for appeal?)

Literature Review: Where to Start for Research on Rape Victim Statements?

Possible keywords/search terms for this topic (you'll find more as you search!)

General:

  • Victim impact statements
  • Rape victims (or Sexual abuse victims)
  • Rape Law and Legislation
  • Sex Crimes
  • Crimes again Women

More specific:

  • Victims' names (if known)
  • Perpetrators' names
  • Case name (i.e. People v. Turner)

Most databases have an Advanced Search option where you can search on multiple terms at once:
try "victim impact statements" in one box, "trauma" in the next box, for example