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Jaycee Dugard: Readers object to ‘sex slave’ headline

Jaycee DugardBy now, most readers are probably familiar with the story of Jaycee Dugard, kidnapped outside her Northern California home at age 11 and held captive for 18 years before being found in August 2009.

Dugard did not testify at the sentencing of her abductors last month. Her first detailed account of her time in captivity, which included rapes and the birth of two daughters, came in a TV interview Sunday.

That interview was covered in an article in Monday’s print edition, which carried the headline "Former sex slave recalls tragic life."

The characterization gave some readers pause.

"Has she not had a hard enough life without your label of 'sex slave'? asked Mike Erickson of Laguna Niguel. "Why not the headline 'Jaycee Dugard recalls tragic life'?"

Another reader emailed the reporter, Martha Groves: "I enjoyed your article on Jaycee Dugard, however wouldn't a title of 'kidnap victim' been more appropriate than 'sex slave'? All of us should help this young lady recover."

Editors who worked on the story Sunday night agreed, in hindsight.

"I think the reader raises a good point, one that I hadn't considered," said Jim LaVally, an assistant copy desk chief. "The term accurately describes her life while in the hands of these people. But it is loaded with mostly lurid connotations. And it robs the victim of dignity. I think we can find an acceptable alternative."

And Assistant Managing Editor Henry Fuhrmann, who oversees the copy desks, added, "I'm wondering whether, in some contexts, 'Jaycee Dugard' has become a usable headline name because of all the coverage, thus absolving us of finding a suitable generic replacement term."

Editors had the chance to put this thinking into practice with an article Wednesday. Dugard’s memoir was released Tuesday, and reporter Maria L. LaGanga reviewed it. The headline on the article: "A new chapter for Jaycee Dugard."

--Deirdre Edgar


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Comments (11)

" Give thanks to God and praise him" He delivered her back to her family and that is what we should be thankful for. Trust in the Lord with all your heart mind body and soul, amen!

The problem with this complicated behind-the-curtain editorial etiquette is that it's inconsistent and unaccountable. Special linguistic courtesy is extended to certain individuals who are victims and to certain social groups whom you deem to be victims. But your criteria for deciding who is a victim are not public and may not even be consistent. Are taxpayers sometimes victims? Are employers sometimes victims? I assume you would argue they are not, but have you really thought that through? Your definition of "victims" is ideologically loaded. For this reason, it's a little hard to take your ethical argument at face value in Jaycee's case. I have a better idea. Why not be consistent and just tell the truth about everybody, whether you like them or not?

I agree with both sides - the term 'sex slave' is most horrific and the term exactly fits the reporting. But just like the term 'prostitute' it is freighted with nearly insurmountable shame and criminal activity - and who is responsible for such demand that creates the predicament? Why does the victim carry the naming? She was/is always Jaycee - before and after - with the experience of sexual slavery on her life line. I write this as a woman also forced into 'the life' and it helps to reframe without refusing the truth.

"Sex slave" appropriately links Jaycee's captivity with the experiences of thousands, perhaps millions of women abducted or tricked into prostitution, kept captive by violence and threats against their loved ones.

It is understandable why some folks find the "sex slave" reference offensive and I must admit, it is clearly rooted in sensationalism intended to maximum readership of the article.

Here is a much better example of GENUINE SEX SLAVERY and yet the newspaper/website avoids any such reference, referring to this murdered sex slave as a "servant" which is clearly a classic PC understatement to anyone who read the actual articles or followed this case:


"Saud Abdulaziz bin Nasser al Saud, a grandson of the billionaire king of Saudi Arabia, was ordered to serve a minimum of 20 years for strangling and beating Bandar Abdulaziz to death at a five-star London hotel.

The prince bit the 32-year-old hard on both cheeks during the attack, which happened in their suite in February and was said to have had a sexual element.

He had been drinking champagne and cocktails when he began the ferocious beating after a Valentine's night out."


"That was not an isolated incident. It reflects the policy of the Saudi monarchy, which bars black people from becoming judges and holding senior military posts. In addition, black women are not allowed to work as on-camera reporters for Saudi state television stations, a former reporter told me. "We can only use your voice," her manager told her.

Bandar was one of thousands of black Saudis who are modern-day slaves of the ruling family, serving them in any capacity, including sexually. The culture of slavery pervades the country and while slavery was officially banned in 1964, it continued in practice, especially inside the walls of thousands of princely palaces."


What happened to Ms. Dugard was reprehensible. I do not find the term "Sex Slave" containing lurid connotations, but is a spot-on description of what happened to this young lady and an appropriate headline.

I realize that there are some "sensitive people" out there, however, sugar-coating the elements of what took place, does a disfavor to the reader whose limited attention span, seems to get shorter as time progresses.

Ms. Dugard was turned from a kidnapping victim, into what amounts to be a "sex slave" for some reprobate. A "sex slave" has no choice in what's going on, there is no "mutual consent," and even if this was the case, as some reprobates may argue, she didn't have the capacity to give her permission, especially when her age is in question, she's been placed in captivity and under duress.

What we have is a society that can't handle hard fact, or has simply wimped-out as not understanding the we the readers can comprehend the facts, without drawing "lurid conclusions."

If any of your readers want a job, as a journalist or editor, please have them go to J-School and fill-out an application. I am not offended.

"The term accurately describes her life while in the hands of these people. But it is loaded with mostly lurid connotations. And it robs the victim of dignity. I think we can find an acceptable alternative."

Once you find this "alternative," will you likewise apply it to other victims of enslavement and sexual violence? Or will those victims continue to be robbed of dignity because Jaycee Dugard alone deserves your personalized care?

Every person suffering continual sexual abuse, every person prostituted by means of terror and force, every person duped or unwillingly transported far from home in order to serve the pleasure and profit of others, deserves dignified treatment, as much from the media and the public as from law enforcement. The term the Los Angeles Times does not matter. The empathy (or lack thereof) of its reportage is what imbues meaning to whichever term chosen; the quality of the reporter's work is what matters.

I see the LA Times is not better, in censorship affairs, than the bottom line American media or the old TASS agency. America can't handle the thruth.

Grow a pair people. Giving birth age 14 after abduction at age 11... what else was it?

@JohnMeyer -- where was God during the kidnapping and the ensuing years during which she was abused?

@gtoya-unfortunately, I tend to think the same way as you when awful things like this happen, ESPECIALLY against children! When you believe in God, you try desperately to find the good in everything but there is surely none here...there is NO justification whatsoever! You're only left with anger and one question: WHY???

This is the backup site for The Los Angeles Times. We'll post news and information if becomes inoperable or inaccessible.

this is a test breaking news post |  April 16, 2013, 1:45 pm »


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