There’s been a terrible story in the news for the past few days and it’s terrible in more than one way. If you’re the sort of person who regularly peruses sites like this one, or if you watch any cable news or read newspapers, I’m sure you’ve already seen it. It’s the story coming out of Hacienda HealthCare in Arizona about the woman who’s been in a “vegetative state” coma for a decade and just gave birth to a baby. (We’re not entirely sure about how fully unconscious she is because her mother claims she can answer yes and no questions.) We all know why the story drew everyone’s attention. It’s an almost unimaginable horror playing out in real life.
This woman was entrusted to the care of a professional medical facility, having no ability to fend for herself or even communicate with the rest of the world. And while totally incapacitated at that facility she was raped, God only knows how many times, and was impregnated by her attacker. (And some doubtless fear it was actually “one of her attackers.”)
Before I get to the subject of this column, we need to see where the police investigation stands. The Washington Post reports that a very logical line of investigation is being undertaken. The cops are looking for DNA samples from any men who may have had access to her room during the time period when she was most likely impregnated.
Police investigators are seeking DNA samples from male staff members at a private care facility in Arizona where a woman in a vegetative state gave birth to a child, the company said Tuesday.
Hacienda HealthCare said in a statement that Phoenix police investigators served a search warrant for the samples. “As a company, we welcome this development in the ongoing police investigation,” the company said.
The announcement came a day after the company’s CEO resigned following reports that the woman, left in a persistent vegetative state for nearly a decade after a near-drowning, had given birth.
I’m glad this is being taken seriously and an investigation is underway, but what’s very troubling here is how the press coverage of the story has been handled. The fact that the police are “requesting” DNA samples from male staff members and they don’t have a suspect yet tells us one thing. There was no admission of guilt nor any obvious indications of where to begin looking. With that in mind, why was this story in the news so quickly?
As I said, it’s obviously a tempting media target because a tragedy like this definitely draws a lot of clicks. But once the news broke that the woman had been impregnated, surely the perpetrator or perpetrators would be going to ground. Getting a DNA sample from the baby would give authorities a nearly 100% solid line on who the rapist is and they would almost certainly be clearing out of town as soon as they found out.
You see, we don’t have any way of knowing if the perpetrator is a current staff member, a former staffer who has since moved on or some random visitor to the facility who happened to get access to the room on a single occasion. If the rapist was still working at the facility, they might have found out anyway, but then the cops would only need to see who suddenly stopped showing up for work and begin the manhunt.
If, on the other hand, it’s someone who is no longer working there or a random visitor, they would have no idea that their crime had been discovered. The DNA test might have possibly pinned them down from other records and an arrest might possibly have quickly been made. But everyone in the country found out about this before the police could dig deeper into the investigation and get the DNA results from the baby. The perpetrator could very well be in the wind now and very difficult to track down.
So that leaves me with today’s question for all of you. Was there something about this story which made it urgent for the public to know it had happened as soon as the crime was discovered? What value did that serve? Had all concerned, including the news outlets, mutually agreed to keep it quiet for a while, the rapist might not have known his crime had been detected until an officer was knocking him to the ground and slapping the cuffs on him. Instead, it was a race to broadcast the nightmarish details in every imaginable outlet before someone else beat them to the byline.
Surely we can do better than this. What I’m talking about here should be nothing more than common sense mixed with just a few drops of humanity and compassion. Every reporter who got wind of the story could – and should – have paused and asked the police if just maybe the story needed to be kept quiet for a while. And if the police participated in putting it out there early, they need to go back and reconsider how they approach their jobs.