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{March 15, 2013}   Jodi Arias: Can Slut-Shaming Convict You of Murder in the Court of Public Opinion?

Like many in America, I was recently drawn in to the media spectacle surrounding the Jodi Arias murder trial. For those less inclined to spend hours on YouTube glued to a live-stream of cross-examination, here’s the nitty gritty: Arias, 32, faces first-degree murder charges (and the possibility of the death penalty) in the murder of her ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander. The crime’s grisly nature (Mr. Alexander was shot, stabbed 30 times, and his throat was slit so severely as to be described as near-decapitation) juxtaposed against Ms. Arias’ “pretty, young white girl” appearance has given Nancy Grace and cohorts near joyous levels of “debate and discussion” surrounding the trial. In this case, “debate and discussion” has given way to Nancy’s special brand of justice: I’ve made a decision about said defendant’s guilt or innocence, and I will loudly and proudly refuse to listen to anyone I invite to my show who disagrees without calling their arguments misplaced or ridiculous.

Putting innocence or guilt aside, the media frenzy surrounding this case has brought a few things to light. One in particular, is fairly worrisome. Though I have tried many times to stop myself, I find myself consistently spending more time reading comments on articles or videos about the trial than I do actually reading said article or watching said video. Within this world of anonymity, many feel free to speak their mind, regardless of the content of their message. Curses galore are quickly followed by hopes for eternal hell-fire or expressed daydreams that Ms. Arias be forced to suffer the same death as that of her alleged victim. More troubling than our clear blood-thirsty culture (an eye for an eye! It isn’t just for the Old Testament) are the comments surrounding, shaming, and blaming Ms. Arias’ sexuality for the crime.

I have read multiple comments demeaning Ms. Arias, not for her alleged crime itself, but for the sexual relationship she shared with the victim, Travis Alexander. These comments are woven by a common thread mentality: Travis Alexander was a good, upstanding Mormon, and he fell victim to Ms. Arias’ desire for “kinky” sex, and we cannot fault him for succumbing to her sexual advances. This attitude places the blame for MURDER on Ms. Arias because of her testimony regarding her sexual relationship with the victim.

While the media has consistently portrayed Ms. Arias as a jealous ex-lover, claiming she murdered Mr. Alexander in a jealous rage, their basis for this claim rests on the idea that their sexual relationship was defined and exploited by Ms. Arias. Let me preface this by stating yes, there are occasions in relationships where a participant feels forced into certain actions. These are unhealthy situations. However, the sexual relationship that has been discussed throughout the course of this trial, has not been depicted as one-sided, especially not in the context of Ms. Arias as a pushy instigator.  The evidence, outside of Ms. Arias’ testimony, included a graphic, not-safe-for-work, phone sex recording. What’s clear from that recording is that both Mr. Alexander and Ms. Arias, at least at times, were both willing participants in their sexual relationship.

Utilizing an abusive relationship as the basis for her self-defense claim requires a thorough look into the relationship Ms. Arias shared with Mr. Alexander. How is a jury to come to a decision about her claims she was fearful for her life, if they do not get a full picture of the relationship she had with Mr. Alexander? However, the troublesome reaction from the general public (or at least the public willing to vocalize their opinions in online forums) is that Ms. Arias’ sexual exploration with Mr. Alexander is somehow at fault for the ultimately disastrous conclusion.

Here’s the skinny: the sexual relationship between Ms. Arias and Mr. Alexander was not revolutionary. It was not overtly kinky, or riddled with deviant acts. The two had phone sex. They took pictures of each other, recorded themselves (audio and visual). They experimented with different “props” or tools in the bedroom (if you’re unfamiliar with the case, there is a discussion of PopRocks and Tootsie Rolls that caused quite a stir). None of this pushes their relationship to a crazed, sex-obsessed dalliance. It does not make Ms. Arias a whore or a slut. Like many young people in this country, the two developed a relationship that allowed for experimentation.

I am not claiming that this proves Ms. Arias’ innocence. My point is, while the jury needs to hear the entire relationship between victim and defendant before making a judgment about her self-defense claim, the court of public opinion should also listen to the testimony about their relationship in its ENTIRETY. The jury will find her guilty or not guilty based on the veracity of her testimony. Do they believe she was abused by Mr. Alexander? Do they believe that Ms. Arias feared for her life on that fateful June 4? Do they believe that Ms. Arias is telling the truth now, and do they believe her explanations surrounding her previous fabrications? Their sexual experimentation is relevant only to the jury’s impression of their relationship as a whole. Do they believe that the sexual relationship also quickly blurred into an abusive or controlling relationship as Ms. Arias claims?

Ultimately, if Ms. Arias is convicted, it will be because the jury cannot believe she is telling the truth. They will convict because they believe she prepared and planned to kill him, and concocted self-defense strategically. It will be because they believe she is a cold sociopath who committed a gruesome act and is now concerned only with her own survival. It won’t be because she was too slutty or experimental. Frankly, as far as experimentation goes, the only thing separating Ms. Arias from the norm is the fact that a trial required her to air all of her “dirty laundry” for the rest of the world to see and hear. Let’s hope the majority of us aren’t required to share details of our own sexual experimentation, lest we be held to the same scrutiny.



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