Second Wounds: Victims’ Rights and the Media in the U.S.
by Carrie A. Rentschler, Duke University Press, 2011.
Second Wounds: Victims’ Rights and the Media in the U.S. explains how the victims’ rights movement shaped American public discourse on crime through its concerted efforts at publicity. From its very beginnings in the 1960s, the victims’ rights movement publicized the story of crime from the position of its victims in order to “get tough” on criminal defendants. In particular, Rentschler explores the movement’s focus on secondary aspects of victimization. The movement aimed to reform institutions like the press, law enforcement, the legal system and healthcare, which inflicted a “second wound” on victims of crime and violence. Victims’ Rights also introduced the idea of “secondary victim” into public discussions of crime and violence as a way of asserting the rights of people with familial and affective ties to victims.
Rentschler goes behind the scenes in the movement, in journalism education, and in the networks of criminal justice policy making, to expose the work of victims’ rights activists and the discourse networks that gave them form and organization. In the process, Second Wounds presents readers with a new set of conceptual tools in documentary analysis and the study of the cultural infrastructures that bind together social movements, networks of communication and emergent media practices.
Against critics who complain that American public life is overrun with “victim talk,” Rentschler shows how victimization remains a vibrant and necessary political language in light of current wars on terrorism, increasingly draconian criminal justice policy, and contemporary movements for peace and justice. For all its connections to law and order politics, victims’ rights has also been used to articulate radical anti-violence visions of justice, including prison abolitionism and human rights activism against the wars and occupations enacted in victims’ names. Second Wounds is a must-read for scholars interested in feminist media studies, journalism, political theory, cultural studies and social movements.