A few weeks ago, I was asked the question “What can be done to avoid r*pe”. Those exact words. My first reply was “We need to stop censoring the word rape. Where a rape has occured, we need to call it “rape”, not r*pe, not assault, not unwanted sex. We need to call rape what it is. Otherwise, it becomes a dirty word survivors feel they can’t talk about.”
Alas, avoiding talking about rape is too common; It’s usually only survivors and feminists I hear discussing the matter. Which, when you’re a survivor, looking for a space to speak out, makes things a little more difficult; How can you tell if someone’s willing to listen to you about rape; how can you tell they won’t blame you for being raped; if no-one talks about rape?
Anyway, this brings me to Kent Online. Over the weekend, one of the members of the I Believe Her page forwarded me an article that they had found disturbing. It didn’t take me long to see why.
“Michael Hitchin Accused Of Stranger Sex”
I kid you not. Now, last time I checked, sex wasn’t a crime. Nor was sex with a stranger, provided it was consensual. Rape, however, is. And it should be reported as such. In fact, it shocked me that, in reporting of a rape case, in which the defendant was found guilty, the word “rape” was used once, in describing the survivor as an “alleged rape victim”. Sometimes, the reporting of rape cases makes me despair. This, needless to say, was one of those times.
The way the mainstream media reports rape makes a difference to rape survivors, and attitudes towards rape. There’s a common misconception that rape is somehow “sex gone wrong”, or that somehow, a rape survivor was somehow responsible for being raped. It’s never the case; Rape is about power and control. Paul Hooper, the journalist who reported the case for Kent Online, has spectacularly missed the point with his article.
In fact, Hooper, it seems, is unaware of the fact that being raped is a passive act; rape is something that happens to you, not that you make happen to you. His article opens by talking about how the survivor woke up to find herself “having sex with a stranger”; sensationalising on the stranger element of the case. But sex, and I know I’m preaching to the converted here, involves consent. Regardless of the words the survivor used to describe her experience in court, what she experienced was rape, and reporting it in terms of consensual sex, in the manner Paul Hooper has, minimises the survivors experience. It reads as if Hooper believes the case has been blown out of proportion, as if he believed a sleeping woman could consent to sex with a stranger.
Rape survivors don’t deserve their cases to be reported in such an insensitive manner. Nor do they deserve to see elements of their case sensationalised. It’s for this reason that we need an overhaul in journalism. We need to see the abolition of rape myths in journalism, and we need to see journalists refraining from the mistake of confusing rape with sex.
The original article can be found at http://www.kentonline.co.uk/kentonline/news/2012/june/1/michael_hitchin_accused.aspx
*Update* Since the publication of this blogpost, Kent Online have edited their article. They’ve also been asked to donate to their local Rape Crisis centre. Rape myths and victim blaming have no place in the media. Let’s hope Kent Online have learnt their lesson. The “improved” article can be found at the same URL.