Australian feminist Clementine Ford slams Otago Daily Times for 'sympathetic' rapist article

Australian feminist Clementine Ford has accused the Otago Daily Times (ODT) of "disgusting" reporting of a South Island rape.

Daniel Peter Moore was sentenced to six and a half years in prison for raping a woman in a public toilet in Waihola in April 2018.

On Tuesday, the ODT published an article by Rob Kidd about the events leading up to the attack. It began by describing Moore as an "average Kiwi bloke" with an "unblemished criminal record".

"But on April 20 everything changed," the article said.

It went on to describe Moore's marital problems as well as his childhood trauma, implying these were factors in his eventual decision to trap a woman in a toilet and repeatedly rape her over the course of half an hour.

In a post to her official Facebook page where she has more than 188,000 fans, columnist and author Ford said the article was "a perfect (and perfectly disgusting) example of how rape culture is perpetuated in poor reporting".

She took issue with how the story cast Moore in a sympathetic light, and seemed to imply an unhappy marriage was to blame for his crime.

"The first half of this article focuses on how a rapist - 'an average Kiwi bloke' - was having marital problems and that's what made him abduct and rape a woman repeatedly over the course of 30 minutes," she wrote.

"Poor bloke, having a barney with his missus!"

Ford also criticised the article for including the line "everything changed".

"This man was not subject to an external and unavoidable course of life," she wrote.

"He wasn't the victim of a natural disaster. His 'descent' into sex attack! Like he slipped off a cliff!

"No. He is a rapist and he made the choice to harm and violate another human being. HER life is the one that's changed."

Ford said the story was emblematic of "rape culture".

"It's presenting mitigating circumstances for people who choose to violate another person, inviting the audience to feel sympathy for what they've lost and the 'pressure' they were under.

"This is why newspapers and journalists need to have extensive training in how to properly report on these issues."

Ford's post has attracted more than 300 comments, many of which echoed her disapproval. People also criticised the New Zealand Herald, who republished the story under the new headline 'Rape in a Waihola public toilet: Married father's descent into sex attack'.

Others said the way the article described Moore as having "finished with" his victim after raping her made their "skin crawl".

Some Kiwi journalists have joined Ford in condemning the article, including former editor of the Wairarapa Times-Age Andrew Bonallack.

"She makes a very clear point and I think she's right," he wrote in Facebook group Kiwi Journalists Association.

"Speaking generally (and trying not to specifically critique the ODT story), there is nothing wrong in reporting mitigation as expressed by defence in a court.

"But it's usually in the latter part of the story, after the crime has been detailed and the prosecution and victim have got stuck in."

Former journalist Ann Aitken Worth said she agrees with Ford "entirely".

"The wording of the intro is horrifying and while I don't see an issue with the body of the story, the tone has already been established to colour the reading," she wrote.

"Have to say I share her outrage," wrote NZME journalist Anna Clements. "Stomach-churning reading."

Media commentator Gavin Ellis, who originally shared Ford's comments with the Facebook group, theorised that the problem stemmed from the reporter trying to write a court story as more of a "colour piece".

"That approach is fraught. It can be done... but it requires great skill and care to ensure that the requirements of balance and accuracy are met."

ODT has been approached for comment.

Ford visited New Zealand in November to promote her latest book Boys Will Be Boys.