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Tell the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to Apologize for Fanning Flames Against Tortured, Trafficked Woman

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UPDATE #2, March 30, 2011: Additional charges have been filed in the Bagley sex trafficking and torture case, including charges against Bagley's wife, and charges related to a plot to murder the victim. Here is a link to the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri's press release: http://www.justice.gov/usao/mow/news2011/bagley2.ind.html

And here is a link to the indictment: http://www.justice.gov/usao/mow/news2011/bagley_indictment.pdf

Excerpt below is from http://crimesceneinvestigations.blogspot.com/:

"Today’s indictment also contains additional charges against the original defendants related to a murder-for-hire scheme, witness and victim tampering and witness retaliation, possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence and child pornography."

UPDATE March 24, 2011: 2nd Guilty Plea by a perpetrator in this case. "KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Beth Phillips, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that a Wheatland, Mo., man pleaded guilty in federal court today to his role in a sex-trafficking conspiracy in which a young, mentally deficient woman was coerced into being a sex slave for several years while she was tortured in a trailer home located in a wooded area in Lebanon, Mo." Press Release.

On November 5, 2010 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a story by Todd C. Frankel under the headline A Missouri Town's Doubts about a Sex Torture Case.” One of the perpetrators in this case, James Noel, has pled guilty to human trafficking and participating in the torture and rape of a young woman, and all other charges against him in a federal indictment out of the Western District of Missouri Office of the United States Attorney, including himself participating in torturing her by linking an electrical decive to her genitals and knowing that she was in severe pain and unable to escape. 

The Post-Dispatch article’s headline is itself victim-blaming and sensational in a way that does victims and survivors of rape, torture, and human trafficking an extreme disservice by perpetuating doubt and re-enforcing damaging assumptions. The article raises doubts about the victim's veracity and focuses soley on town members' opinions, who speculate that the victim, according to the indictiment a "mentally defecient" teenager when Edward Bagley, Sr. took her and allegedly began grooming her for torture and sex slavery, was a willing participant. Frankel quotes townspeople and relatives as saying such things as, "They no more held that woman captive than a man in the moon," and "I just can't believe they're saying stuff like that...sounds like an excuse."

Again, given that James Noel, 45, of Springfield, Missouri has pled guilty to charges contained in the Sept. 7, 2010 federal indictment (three other men, Edward Bagley, Sr., Dennis Henry, and Micheal Stokes, aka "The Rodent" are named in the indictiment and awaiting trial) it is time for the Post-Dispatch to print an apology for the November 5, 2010 article and to give op-ed space to an anti-trafficking advocate to explain how such biased coverage contributes to the proliferation of the already hidden crimes of human trafficking, rape, child rape, gang rape, and all forms of sexaul abuse by intimidating victims into fear and silence. 

The following facts of the Missouri case are quoted directly from a press release issued by United States Attorney Phillips after Noel's confession:

“Noel described the crank phone … used to torture FV as “extremely painful.” Noel electrocuted FV with the crank phone himself and sometimes two men tortured FV with crank phones at the same time. These devices were wired inside FV’s vaginal and anal openings and to her toes. Noel admitted that he paid $300 for a special “show” that lasted two or three hours and included these sex acts.”

“According to today’s plea agreement, Noel described FV as mentally delayed for her age. He believed she lacked the ability to communicate normally and had a limited vocabulary. Noel admitted that FV did not have any ability to offer an opinion or refuse to follow orders.”

Also reported in indictments are the methods used to control the victim: “If FV attempted to stop the activity or cried for help … Bagley (the principal charge in this trafficking case) escalated the torture. Bagley allegedly threatened to kill FV and demonstrated to her that he could … by keeping numerous guns in the home. Bagley shot animals that FV cared for in front of her, ... and bragged about the bodies he had already buried in the woods behind the trailer home. Bagley also threatened to bury FV alive,... and showed her a video demonstrating how he intended to do it.”

The Post-Dispatch chose to report on this crime by saying, “But step inside the trailer, talk with the last person living there, and another story unfolds. Visit people around this small town, a conservative "church town" midway between Rolla and Springfield, and that damning picture becomes less clear. Listen to the waitresses, store clerks and acquaintances who know the people at the heart of this case, and you can hear their doubt, even as they cast a disapproving eye on what took place.”

This is victim blaming of the clearest sort. Victim-blame is an angle, and the angle on a story is a choice made by reporter and editor.

We urge the Post-Dispatch to print an apology for the November 5, 2010 article and to give op-ed space to an anti-trafficking advocate to explain how such biased coverage contributes to the proliferation of the already hidden crimes of human trafficking, rape, child rape, gang rape, and all forms of sexaul abuse by intimidating victims into fear and silence. 

Todd Frankel's article was not only unbalanced in the facts and choice of sources, but also provided a platform for an attack on the victim's integrity. This is never warranted, especially if the victim is not speaking to the media. His angle did not lead him to find and interview sources who understand the psychology of victims of trafficking and torture of this kind. The town’s doubts do not explain the victim’s behavior, nor lighten the charges against the perpetrators.

It must be reported that under federal law any person's “consent” to being bought or sold in any way (whether for labor or sex or both) is irrelevant if fraud, force, or coercion have been used to commercially exploit the that person, and that where minors are concerned the very fact of anything of value (even a sandwich) being exchanged for any “sex act” (stripping, pornography performance, or direct sex act) is by definition human trafficking. This article mentioned none of these legal facts. If Mr. Frankel was unaware of these misconceptions, his editor should have addressed them before publication.

Though the Post-Dispatch did publish other articles without blaming the victim, we maintain the tone and direction of this piece requires the Post-Dispatch to examine its policies and ethics, and possibly revise them. Unlike other violent crimes, sex crimes regularly produce victim-blaming stories. Fanning doubt and casting aspersions on the character of victims makes fear grow and intimidates victims from reporting crimes against them, especially sexual crimes. 



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