Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Media reporting on rape, the daily mail and Strauss-Kahn

This post originally appeared on the Fresh Outlook

There is a pervasive rape myth that influences a lot of the ways newspapers and mainstream media outlets continue to talk about rape. Feminists call this the myth of the ‘perfect victim’. It is a myth because of course a perfect victim does not exist. But what this myth does is create a false divide between victims and survivors of rape who the media consider ‘innocent’, and victims and survivors who the media paint as blameworthy, or guilty of ‘causing’ the rape. This happens in many ways. A recent news report in the Daily Mail blamed a 12-year old girl for being gang raped, reporting the defence statement that claimed she was a ‘Lolita’ who had accepted alcohol from the men who then raped her and her friend, as well as calling her a liar because she led them to believe she was older than she was. These children were painted as ‘bad’ victims because they were out at night, drinking alcohol, and were ‘dressed provocatively’. Comments on the news stories painted the perpetrators of the rape as the victims of these girls, as they had been ‘led on’ and ‘tricked’ by girls who were dressed ‘sluttily’.

The myth of the perfect victim means that much of the reporting around violence against women and girls falls into two distinct categories. Firstly, when rape is reported in the news (rarely) then it will generally be a story about stranger rape. Despite the fact that stranger rape is far, far less common than rape by a partner, friend or colleague, it makes up the bulk of news reported rape cases. More often than not, the victim or survivor will be white, middle class, sober, and attacked in the day or early evening. Two – the rape will be reported as a ‘cry-rape’ case. This is when the case has not progressed, or the accused hasn’t been found guilty for whatever reason. In this case, the media assume that the woman lied about the rape, even if the defendant has not gone on to accuse or charge the women with false accusation. Despite the false accusation rate being between 3-5%, whilst 100,000 UK women are raped each year, the media paints a picture that all non-convicted rape cases are ‘cry rape’ stories, which is simply not true. A quick search of the term ‘cry rape’ on the Daily Mail website reveals 166 stories, including coverage of the recent Dominique Strauss-Kahn case.

The recent reporting around the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case shows how pervasive the myth of the perfect victim is. Here we have a very powerful, very respected political leader. He has a history of sexual harassment and since his arrest more women have come forward with claims of sexual assault. He is accused of sexual assault by a poor, black woman from an immigrant community who cleans his hotel room. He is arrested for sexual assault. But if you read some papers, this isn’t the story at all. This is a ‘sex scandal’. This is British and US women being ‘uptight’ whilst the French have a more ‘relaxed’ attitude to sex. And finally, this is an unreliable woman, who, *gasp*, may have worked in prostitution, lying about sexual assault, victimising a powerful man, for financial gain.

Firstly, sexual assault is not a ‘sex scandal’. It is a crime. He didn’t get caught having an affair. He was accused of sexual assault. Secondly, British and US women are not ‘uptight’ about sexual assault, and French women are not ‘relaxed’ about sexual assault. If a crime has been committed, if he did assault a woman, then the news story isn’t about national stereotypes around sex, but about violence against women. Thirdly, and this is where the myth of the perfect victim crops up again, poor, black women from immigrant communities who know some dodgy characters do get raped and sexually assaulted too. None of these things make her an unreliable witness. Her class, her nationality, her immigration status, the fact that she has gone through FGM, the fact she didn’t tell immigration officials that she had gone through FGM; none of this is relevant to the case. What is relevant is the DNA evidence, which clearly shows that something did happen and needs to be investigated. 

The New York post is now being sued by representatives of the woman regarding stories in their paper claiming she had worked in prostitution, something which she says is not true. The paper seems to believe that a history of working in prostitution discredits you as a witness in a sexual assault case. They seem to believe that it means she couldn’t have been sexually assaulted. Dominique Strauss-Kahn is released on bail, and suddenly the woman is in the metaphorical dock, as her history is raked over to ‘prove’ that she was lying.

Due process says innocent before proven guilty. This is the cornerstone of justice. But innocent before proven guilty does not translate to ‘woman must be lying’. It means that each party is believed and allowed a voice and legal representation. And yet so often when it comes to cases around violence against women, there is a presumption that the woman is making it up. Rape myths live in juries’ heads, in lawyers’ heads, in CPS officers’ heads, in police officers’ heads and they are perpetuated by the media over and over again.

Sadly, tragically, all women still know that if they accuse a man of rape of sexual assault, or rape, they are taking a risk. They are taking a risk that they won’t be believed. They are taking a risk that their past will be raked over, that the actions they took before, during and after the alleged assault will be twisted to discredit them. We know that if we drank alcohol, took drugs, were out on our own at night, had had consensual sex previously with the accused, had known the accused, had dressed ‘provocatively’ then we could be discredited. We women know that if we go to the police we might not be believed. If the police believe us, then the case may still fall apart. We know that if the accused rapist is not found guilty, then we will be accused of lying. Great leaps have been made to improve justice for rape victims and survivors in the last 50 years. But still, most rapes go unreported, still most rapists walk free. And when we see the treatment of a woman who accuses a man of sexual assault in perhaps the biggest international news story in the world, is it any wonder that most sexual assaults remain unreported, and the UK conviction rate remains at 6.5%.

This post has been picked up by Liberal Conspiracy here:


The men who were sentenced for raping a 12 year old girl have been released. Apparently the girl was more "sexually experienced than the men" and "wanted sex".

The fact that a child cannot meaningfully consent to sex doesn't seem to matter to our judges in this case. Excuse me whilst i cry.


David Rose said...

The arrest of Strauss Kahn for rape was an extremely complex event.

It seems that DSK has a long track record of sexual assault that has been covered up in the past by his elite circle.
However such a track record of assault leaves a political figure like DSK open to blackmail.

Your blog post only looks at the recent arrest event and media frenzy from a feminist and sexual politics angle.
I'm afraid you are not discussing all the relevant information.

Are you aware that the world economy is in crisis? Are you aware that as head of the IMF DSK was at the very heart of
the world economic crisis? Governments fall and revolutions in the Middle East start because of the action of the IMF.
DSK was also a favoured candidate to beat Sarkozy is in the next French elections.
DSK was in favour of more bailouts for Greece, whilst many in Germany are happy to let Greece default on its loans.
If Greece defaults many French banks will go bust and a financial crisis worse than September 2008 will begin.

Don't you think that one of DSK's many political enemies might have wanted to set him up to, remove him from running the IMF?

Don't you think this whole rape story is a smoke screen to hide another (quite obvious) story of geo-politics and inter-elite in-fighting?

Sometimes the solipsism and "detached from reality" nature of feminists and the feminist movement is really beyond a joke.

sian and crooked rib said...

A world economic crisis? No shit! I must have missed that news THAT was why I was made redundant...
This post is about how women who accuse men of rape and sexual assault are disbelieved, discredited and how the media narratives about rape myths perpetuate this problem. I don't know if dsk is guilty or not. But I find all these honey pot conspiracy theories hard to swallow. Rape and sexual assault is very common. International conspiracies aren't.
But guilty or innocent, the media calling it a sex scandal, calling the woman an ex prostitute, saying she is unreliable because she didn't tell immigration thst she had had fgm, this is all part of a wider issue about how we talk about alleged victims of rape, and how rape myths are spread and perpetuated.

sian and crooked rib said...

Personally, I find theories about set UPS and smokescreens far, far more detached from reality than the fact that 1 in 3 women across the world will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. And that overwhelmingly that the perpetrators get away with it.

David Rose said...

The sad thing about this "exchange of views" is that I agree with most of what you say. However for some reason you want to exclude allot of evidence and opinion about this event from your argument, even though it is very relevant to any meaningful analysis of the event. This is troubling.

To repeat: I think its highly likely that DSK is guilty of rape .... many times over. He in all likelihood did rape the West African
Hotel maid (her name is not in the public domain for legal reasons). He has been getting away with rape for years because this makes him controllable and open to manipulation as a politician.

Because of the huge political conflict over the world economic crisis DSK's known behaviour (as a serial rapist) has been used to remove him as head of the IMF.

If you don't think this is "how the world works" then look at the current Murdoch phone hacking story now exploding. Gordon Brown's phone was not hacked for "sexual scandal" to sell as sensational stories in the News of the World.

Gordon Brown's phone was hacked in order for powerful people to obtain incriminating information to blackmail the then Prime Minister.

This is what is really going on. If you want to ignore this your understanding of what is really going on society and how politics works will be extremely limited.

You are missing about 60% of the story in your blog post. I don't disagree with most of what you have said. The problem is your
story is a very incomplete analysis if the DSK arrest and subsequent media stories.

sian and crooked rib said...

This post is about the way the media report rape and how that perpetuates rape myths. It is a 1000 word blog post, about how alleged rape and sexual assault victims are discredited thanks to widely held views about the perfect victim myth, of which the dsk case is a good example. I am not attempting to analyse the wider economic implications of the imf leadership here, although that is an interesting subject. I don't believe this case has been thought up by his enemies as your first comment suggested. But my issue here is media reporting.

sian and crooked rib said...

I also think it isn't 'the way the world works' they powerful men get away with rape so that their political enemies can use it against them should a economic crisis occur. Men get away with rape and sexual assault every day, because in part we live with rape culture, we live in patriarchy, we wake up and see rape myths in the news, in conversations, in courts, in police safety campaigns, on tv, in comedy...I am not naive about how the world works and I am very well versed in how rape culture works.

David Rose said...

I think I've proved that you cannot analyse the DSK rape arrest and media reporting without taking into account his role as the head of the IMF and the ongoing political conflict (both overt and covert) over the global financial and economic crisis.

Dru Marland said...

I don't think you've proved anything, David.

Maggie said...

David, you seem to have entirely misunderstood what this article is about...

David Rose said...

you certainly haven't proved or said anything meaningful "Dru"!

Carl Eve said...

Sian, just wanted to raise a point.
All rape cases in the UK should, in effect, be reported as stranger rape.
Because of the Sexual Offences Act, total anonymity for life is given to the victim.
By saying someone was raped by their partner/ex-partner (one of the most common scenarios) a reporter would leave themselves open to causing a contempt, because if they guy is later charged with rape, and a court report says where and when, it would be possible to work out who the victim is.
Needless to say, a lot of material is left out for this reason, from the very start of the rape investigation through to the court case.

David Rose said...

The "feminists" writing on this blog seem to live in a parallel universe where they are happy that the world economy is crashing and all political life is completely corrupt long as they can continue with their obsession with rape and demonising all men.

It is highly likely that DSK was set up in New York but of course the feminists do not even consider this possibility.

You really are not worth communicating with. This is the last time I will post here.

sian and crooked rib said...

Bye then!

David Rose said...


sian and crooked rib said...

Article on Guardian yesterday on more allegations

David Rose said...

DSK cleared of false rape accusations.

Conspiracy Theorists: 1
Crazy Feminists: 0