The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Thoughts on rape reporting

Posted by caitlinate on October 14, 2009

There’s a story up on The Age about the horrific rape of an Australia woman in Edinburgh. I’m attaching a massive TRIGGER WARNING to this article and this story. If you think reading somewhat graphic details about rape is a bad idea for you then be careful following the link to this story. It’s here.

Briefly: an Australian woman living in Edinburgh was raped multiple times by two strangers who were also physically violent in other ways. There’s a couple of reasons I want to mention this article.

First is that Fairfax has finally managed to write an article about rape that isn’t horribly offensive. (I checked outside and the apocalypse hasn’t come so I’m not really sure what is going on.) Sure, the title (‘Australian woman’s eight-hour rape ordeal’) is a bit jarring and they mention the nationality of the perpetrators, a possibly unnecessary descriptor. But, for the most part, it’s a simple and well written piece of reportage on an horrific and devastating crime.

Second is, why?

The article states that the “rape was reported as one of the worst to ever occur in Edinburgh.” This makes me wonder if she’d instead been raped by her partner who was claiming she had consented, would the reporting be as straight forward and clear? Or would they write “pretty bad but not the worst” and would we be back to the inverted comma’s of ‘rape’? I understand that there are different levels of brutality and different forms of trauma, some worse than others. But I try really hard to not buy into the sliding scale of rape. Disqualifying a persons experience of rape as ‘less’ than that of someone else is very dangerous territory. One of the cruelest things about rape, that I think a lot of people don’t understand, is that it often can’t be measured by the form of the original attack, it’s the long term emotional consequences that are the true terror. Obviously, the rape itself impacts on those long term consequences but not in a definitive definable way.

I know I sound awfully cynical here but to get to the point: is the reason the article is written so clearly due to the crime itself being so brutal and horrific? There is no way anyone could cast aspersions on the survivor after reading in detail about what happened to her. Additionally, the survivor was able to give lengthy and detailed statements to the police about her attack as well as appearing in court. Is the reporting on this woman’s experience fair, balanced and reasoned because what happened to her is – beyond a shadow of doubt – awful and because she was able to tell us exactly how awful it was?



9 Responses to “Thoughts on rape reporting”

  1. jenkingwell said

    Hey Caitlin, I’m glad you pointed this out otherwise I probably would have skipped right past this article (you know when you.just.can’ with this shit some mornings?) – but I think you’re absolutely right on a number of levels. Firstly, it is both a relief and revealing when you get these ‘sensitive’ (i.e. not absolutely survivor-blaming) articles – obviously it’s a relief because it’s not obviously peddling the myths ‘she wanted it’, ‘it wasn’t rape’, ‘[the perpetrator]’s not the rapist type’, which tend to be the bread-and-butter frames for most rape reporting – but it’s interesting because texts like this pretty much always tend to focus on what’s seen as ‘real-rape’ cases where there is no ambiguity – the woman fought back or was otherwise physically assaulted; she was assaulted by strangers outsider her home; she reported her assault – but I think they’re also problematic because they are perpetuating the same myths about rape at the same time as appearing to be quite progressive. So no, I don’t think you’re being awfully cynical at all, I think you’re really on the money. I think it says more about the state of most other rape coverage that this is seen as such an improvement, but Nancy Worthington has written some really exciting and positive stuff on what really progressive rape reporting could look like: Negotiating News Representations of Rape . Definitely worth a look.

  2. Caitlin,

    Well written. Cynical? No. Unfortunately, after all these years, rape is still a misunderstood crime unless the perpetrator is a “complete” stranger and the survivor has been beaten and raped. After that, we go to he said, she said and was it really sex, etc, etc.

    My heart goes out to the survivor in this case. God give her the strength for the healing process.

    Angie M. Tarighi
    CEO & Founder
    Women’s Self-Defense Institute

  3. Leah said

    I completely agree that it’s probably impossible, not to mention pointless and insensitive, to classify rape in degrees of ‘badness’ or seriousness. While I’m not ruling out that it is, in some shape or form, a potentially possible thing to do, the real question that jumps out at me isn’t ‘is it possible?’ but rather is: why would you even want to do that? No one is standing over you with a gun at your head saying ‘Choose! Come on! Which rape was worse!’ I mean, it’s all bloody horrific so why even get into the hair splitting task of saying which case might be more horrific than another?

    In this same vein of ‘ranking-the-unrankable’, I just read an article in the ‘Big Issue’ about a young man who killed himself. It had some good points as a piece, but slipped into ranking-suicide-madness, by claiming ‘The Gap is a place for extrovert suicides; grey apartment blocks are the choice of people who have had enough, who can’t see any other way out, but who want to spare their loved ones the trauma of a very public death.’ Come on – I think that’s pretty outrageous, surely suicide is suicide, i.e. as bad as it gets, and trying to draw a distinction that makes one option sound (to my ear) less serious than the other is just mad, not to mention cruel to the surviving loved ones?

    Oh, and Jenkingwell, I don’t know if it’s just me, but the link in your comment doesn’t seem to be working?

  4. lilacsigil said

    At the same time as I see this article as a good thing, it’s not the standard, because this victim is [young/Aussie/female/attacked by foreigners/in a foreign land/fought back/attacked by strangers/reported the rape immediately/fits the “brave victim” narrative]. Every step the victim takes away from this “idealised” rape, the media feels fit to take away a little respect from the victim.

  5. Linda Radfem said

    I agree with Jenkingwell that while the article itself is not too offensive (I’m taking your word without reading it because I don’t need the triggers) but yeah it does promote the idea that society and the media take rape seriously because obviously this is a case of rape rape, and it might be insidiously promoting that distinction that people identify with, while at the same time masking the ongoing failure to seriously address the issue of rape.

  6. Zoe said

    Damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

    Honestly, I understand what you’re saying, and to an extent I agree with you. But to say it was ‘one of the worst to ever occur in Edinburgh’ says nothing about the nature of other rapes, and I don’t perceive it as a negative.

  7. newswithnipples said

    As a journo I can tell you why it was reported as rape, not ‘rape’: they were found guilty. Until then, it’s an alleged rape and has to be reported as such. Which I’m sure you’ll agree is fair. However, for the sake of headlines, alleged rape becomes ‘rape’ which always makes it sound like a)she’s making it up, and b)rape isn’t really serious. And that’s a massive problem.

  8. LadyGrey said

    I don’t agree it’s fair to report rape as ‘rape’ Newswithnipples.
    Just like car theft or burglary is not reported as ‘theft’ or ‘burglary’ until someone has been found guilty. Rape, like theft, burglary or assault can be viewed as a crime when someone reports it. Of course the ‘car theft’ might not have happened and the owner is doing a dodgy for insurance purposes or something but because that is fairly unlikely, it won’t be the immediate assumption. That should be the case for rape, because after all it is actually less likely that rape is being falsely reported than a car theft is.
    Alleged rapist is fine, alleged rape not so much. The crime should not be in question, only the identity of the alleged offender.
    Look at this recent report

    the offence is called rape, not ‘rape’ or even alleged rape.
    It’s rare for rape to be reported as rape, but it’s not unreasonable or unfair to report rape for the crime that it is.

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