When my boyfriend coerced me out of
my virginity at the age of 19, I didn’t say
“no” or “stop.” But neither did I say “yes”.
I squeezed my thighs together so tight and, when he left that night,
I cried for hours. Despite this, I didn’t consider it rape.
Didn’t consider it anything more than a shit move by someone
who was slowly revealing himself to be a shit guy.
But when I ran into him five years later, I still shook
uncontrollably, bile roiling at the base of my gut.
Protesters were once again on the streets to highlight
injustices in how rape trials are conducted.
The resumed demonstration is a response to a recent case
which sparked outrage after a defence barrister referred
to the 17-year-old complainant’s underwear during a trial
in which a 27-year-old man was acquitted of rape.
Activists wore revealing outfits to protest against
the shaming of victims for their clothes and painted
slogans such as ‘this is not consent’ and ‘I’m not
asking for it’ on their bodies.
The defendant’s lawyer suggested to jurors that the
teenager’s lacy underwear meant she was ‘open to
meeting someone and being with someone.’
The young woman’s thong was then passed around the courtroom,
leading a congresswoman to hold up a lace thong in the house
of representatives to highlight ‘routine victim-blaming’.
Coverage of Rape
The obscene coverage gives a distorted image of
sex crimes, which most frequently occur in private
settings, committed by someone known to the victim.
The sex crimes most frequently covered are rape
and child sexual abuse, although it can include
a wider range of acts such as exhibitionism and voyeurism.
Media attention tends to focus on violent crimes committed by
‘dangerous’strangers, largely defined as poor men of color,
and crimes committed against white and middle-class victims.
Media coverage of sexual assaults can be divided into two main
categories, “real” rape versus “simple,” rape.
“Real” rapes, also referred to as “stranger rapes,” are the
cases that dominate media coverage, although they are estimated
to comprise approximately 10% of all sexual assaults.
These are rapes committed by strangers, in public places,
frequently involving physical assaults or the use of weapons.
The perpetrators of these crimes are portrayed as stereotypical
criminals: poor and racial minority men, or “psychopaths.”
“Simple rapes,” or “acquaintance rapes,” approximately 90% of
all sexual assaults, are committed by acquaintances or intimates,
occur in private spaces such as the home, and are far less likely
to include physical assaults or the use of weapons.
Simple or acquaintance rapes are generally committed by “normal”
men and are common across all socioeconomic and ethnic groups.
“Real rapes” continue to be over-represented in both news and
entertainment media, and to be prone to highly sensationalist
reporting that magnifies their violent elements.
This representational bias creates a belief that the reality of
rape is an assault committed by a stranger lurking in a dark alley.
This stereotype has significant effects on women’s fear of rape,
with many women believing that they are significantly more at
risk of stranger rape than is statistically the case.
This fear, fueled by media misrepresentation, often leads women
to modify or alter their behavior. Common measures undertaken
by women due to fear of rape include avoiding being out alone at
night, carrying personal alarms and avoiding public transport.
Fear of rape has also been connected to wider fears of
criminality and the growth of “law and order politics”.
Highly publicized cases of “stranger rape” can act as signal crimes,
distilling social anxieties and leading to calls for tougher sentencing
legislation or increased policing powers.
These measures, however, do little to protect against the more
common risk of assaults committed by acquaintances or intimates.
The reporting of rape cases are designed
to repulse and titillate simultaneously.
The narrative of rape in the news is almost pornographic in nature.
Designed to arouse while it pretends to objectively present facts.
Facts alone do not sell. Facts are boring, they lack in showmanship
so they must be dressed up in storytelling.
It becomes a morality tale. One in which sexual desire has
gone wrong. It’s a combination of synchronized condemnation
and raw exhibitionism.
Readers are outraged by the individual cases At the same
time due to lack of references and framing, they’re unable
to contextualize rape within a culture of misogyny and social
A raped child outrages and titillates. Yet, the way
the narrative operates says nothing of the environment
in which these same abused children are growing up,
the condoned sexual violence and the language used
to describe these occurrences.