Sex and News

     When is sex news?
     Why is it news?
     It’s not unusual.
     Its occurrence, or dearth, has no public importance – no policy implications.
     There is nothing anyone can say about it that hasn’t been said before.
     Yet we all know it’s news – it’s paraded as news every day, even in august publications that don’t know how to write about it, such as The New York Times.
     We might as well ask: When is sex not news?
     Clearly, sex has no real news value, but since sex is news whether it has news value or not, then we have to return to our second question: Why is it news?
     And when is it not?
     Fortunately, I have some statistics on this.
     From the thousands of lawsuits upon which Courthouse News reports every day, I’ve been counting, and categorizing, the complaints involving sex.
     From a sample of about 80,000 cases, 0.42 percent – 335 of them – involved sex: slightly over 20 lawsuits a day for the three weeks I counted.
     That’s three times more than involved race: 102, or 0.12 percent of the total cases.
     It comes as no surprise that more than 90 percent of the 335 sex complaints involved men’s vile behavior to women.
     Twelve percent of those complaints involved violence, sometimes extreme violence, against women.
     Ten percent involved discrimination against pregnant women.
     Sixty-five percent were men just being creeps, but that’s violence too, especially if it comes from a boss, or a co-worker: someone the woman cannot escape, except to her own harm.
     Twelve percent involved sexual harassment of men. I did not think to count how many of those involved members of the clergy, but it was a significant amount.
     So many sexual harassment complaints are filed in our courts every day that it takes something quite extraordinary for it to qualify as news for this page.
     In fact, reporters are constantly pitching stories to me about sexual harassment, and I have to tell them, sorry, it’s not news.
     But we do report something about sex every day, because the fact that men behave so abominably to women, so often in the workplace, so often a boss doing it, is important. It should be reported. But what makes it news?
     The first boss I ever had in the news business, a great old-timer named Charlie Hand, told me more than once that he didn’t see why murders were news.
     “It’s not unusual,” he said. “It happens every day. It usually doesn’t involve the public at large, or threaten them. It just involves a family, maybe two families. I don’t see why it’s news.”
     Of course Charlie knew that murder was news. But I don’t know the answer to his question, any more than I know why sex is news.
     I went to an appliance store yesterday to look for a stove part. It’s owned and run by a nice woman of about 50. Because I’m a snoop, I asked her this and that about her business, and somehow we got onto the topic of sexual harassment.
     She said customers do it to her all the time – often crudely, often disgustingly.
     “Customers?” I said. “What do they expect to get from it?”
     “I don’t know,” she said.
     “And they’re customers, so you have to be nice to them?”
     I was dumbfounded by this, though of course I should not have been.
     Aside from not sexually harassing women myself, though, and reporting just a bit of it, day after day, I don’t know what else I can do about it. Except to point out that it’s happening, and that according to my crude statistics violence and harassment of women is 3.5 times more prevalent in our country today, in the courts anyway, than racism.

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