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The Oversight
Cara Gillotti
illustration by Sharon "Mama" Spell
Censored Olympia-Sharon "Mama" Spell
While looking through the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette online edition this morning, a lurid title caught my eye: "Bedford woman accused of prostituting girl, 15". The gist of the story was this: a woman brought a fifteen-year-old girl to a man's house. The woman told him that the girl was twenty-two, and he paid fifty dollars for sex with the girl. Charges were brought against each: the man was charged with statutory sexual assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, and prostitution and related offenses; the woman with sexual exploitation of children and prostitution and related offenses.

The man was not named. The woman’s name was given, though. First, middle, and last. Four times.

Egregious? I assumed it was a holdover from some antiquated sexist prostitution law or journalistic tenet, and wanted to know the specifics. The story was from the Associate Press, but I figured the Post-Gazette would know the answer. I sent an email message to the appropriate address, and a staffer promptly called me back. He says he guesses it was because the man and girl are related; so identifying the man would also identify the girl. He goes silent for a moment, skimming the article I imagine.

"But it says that she drove him to her house, so that's kind of weird,” he mulls. “I would guess one of three things: One: They're related. Two: He wasn't charged. Oh, wait, he was. Three: Well, I don't have another guess. Do you want the AP’s number?"

I do. I call the AP and repeat my question. "Because it's who was charged,” the AP representative says, confidently.

"No. They were both charged,” I say.
"Then I don't know,” he says. “We'll post a correction."
"Where did you get the story?"
"And you are...?"
"Cara Gillotti. Where did you get the story?"
"Hold." I hold. "From the Bedford Gazette."
"Do you have their number?"
Silence. "Hold."

I call the Bedford Gazette, and a voice much softer and more tentative than mine apologizes that it has a question about a story that the AP ran in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The woman on the phone tells me there's no one in the newsroom now, but that if I call back that night I can talk to the "girl" who covers the courts. I get her name, and call the AP back.

"Associated Press, this is so-and-so." Different person.
"Hi, can you tell me how exactly you pick up stories from newspapers?" says the soft and tentative voice.
Silence. "Who are you with?"
My own voice reappears. "You mean who am I dating? I'm not with anyone. I'm just a person with a question."
"We'll run his name. It was an oversight."
“ An oversight on the part of the person who wrote the story?" I ask.
"No, an oversight on our part."
"How did you get the story?"
"Can I ask you about your interest in this?" he asks.
“It bothers me that the man was granted anonymity, and the woman was not.”

That night at 10 p.m., I call the Bedford Gazette and ask to speak to my contact. After hearing “Sure, hold on one sec,” I am told that she isn’t in, and that while I might want to try back the next day, they couldn’t tell me what time.

I grant that a newsroom is a busy place. I grant that oversights happen, oversights that can result in a woman being referred to by name four times and a man referred to as “the man” three time in a one hundred and seventeen-word piece, maybe even oversights whereby the man’s name can disappear and be replaced by “the man”. I do not suggest nefarious intent on the part of the papers. What I suggest is that we be vigilant when it comes to fairness in the identification of the accused, maybe particularly in such arenas as prostitution in which women have historically been seen as culpable, and men blameless.

About ninety minutes after I first called the AP, the Post-Gazette online displayed an updated version of the story from the AP. The man’s name was given: James Hockenberry.

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