January 4, 2015
(Cross-posted from The Feminist Writer)
The contribution of media to the normalisation and perpetration of domestic violence is particularly worrying; varying forms of emotional, psychological, physical and sexual assault are increasingly normalised and desensitised in the public eye, and through mechanisms utilised by the media, Domestic Violence is fundamentally condoned, whether that be primarily or as a social by-product of glorifying the perpetrator. Media outlets tend to portray the devaluation of women, sexism, violence against women, and more recently rape, in a comedic light, and more often than not, the offender is portrayed as the victim. Inarguably, the role of mass media in perpetrating domestic violence (in whichever form) cannot be disputed and through repeated exposure, the media has the power to desensitise the public’s perception of violence, particularly against women. Troublingly, adverts, news outlets and even awareness campaigns (often disguised as ‘rape prevention’) mostly target women, shifting the focus away from the perpetrator and on to the victim.
This morning I woke up to this. Needless to say, I don’t read the Daily Star but it was left lying around at work, and after following the case I was shocked to see a headline that blamed feminism. Okay, maybe only a little shocked. It is the Daily Star after all, and considering the recent portrayal of sexual violence in the media, it was only a matter of time until they blamed the feminists. Frustratingly the world does enjoy spanking us, but it’s particularly saddening because once again sexual assault is being trivialised, normalised, and the wrongdoer, in this case a rapist (!!!) is being portrayed as the victim.
Horrendous as they are, headlines like this don’t shock me anymore, which really saddens me because people tend to expect such rubbish from the media. ‘Footie Rapist ‘Victim of Feminists”. Oh look, a free frisbee with my daily dose of misogyny. But we need to stop being so complacent about the daily portrayal of violence, because fundamentally it is so damaging to society. Fundamentally if the media continue to trivialise domestic violence, sexual assault will only further be normalised. If domestic violence continues to be misinterpreted as some sort of romantic ideal, the media, albeit indirectly (sometimes), will continue to represent the ideology that violence against women is acceptable (or at least condonable under the right set of circumstances or pressures, as is so often exemplified in rape cases where the woman may have irrelevantly been drinking, or in this case, where Ched Evans has been described by the press as a “role model”). Minimising the gravity of such violence can lead to worrying outcomes; of course supporting the age old rape myth mentality that rape occurs in varying degrees of severity, but even more sadly, the negative portrayal of the real victim hugely impacts their access to support and justice.
This week sees the release of Ched Evans, a former Sheffield United player, from prison, two years into his five year sentence for the rape of a 19-year old woman. Current media portrayal surrounding his release has been particularly heartbreaking. It is evident that they are focusing very much so on rape hierarchy. Is this down to the media’s incessant belittling of date rape? I think so. Judy Finnegan’s Loose Women statement represents this down to a T.
“He’s served his time. The rape – and I’m not by any means minimising any kind of rape – but the rape was not violent. He didn’t cause any bodily harm to the person”
So basically Finnegan is suggesting that because the victim was not kicked or punched or strangled or mutilated or held at knife point, or stabbed or murdered, that she is not deserving of our sympathy. Rather that he is. That we should accept Evans’ apology, that he has “served his time”. God forbid we ruin his life even more by banning him from football. “The rape was not violent”: are you actually kidding me?! Rape is always an act of violence, as Louise Pennington writing for the Huffington Post explains. “The act of rape, in and of itself, is an act of violence. It can be accompanied by other forms of violence… but rape itself is an act of violence. Rape is the violation of a woman’s (or child, or man’s) body. It is the forced insertion of a penis into a bodily orifice without consent (as defined under law in England and Wales).”
It is undoubtedly dangerous that society tends to obsess over the ideology that rape itself is not violent. Rape, regardless of whether or not it is accompanied by other forms of violence, is violent. Rape, regardless, causes bodily harm, and this is without highlighting the risk of vaginal/anal tearing and sexually transmitted disease (as Pennington goes on to stress). Not to mention the psychological, physical and emotional stress; increased likelihood of mental illness, depression, self harm, suicide; and the pain, both physically and mentally of having somebody force their penis inside of you.
Despite all of this, Judy Finnegan is not alone in defending Ched Evans, unsurprisingly. Sarah Vine’s article: ‘Judy’s Right, Some Rapes ARE Worse Than Others’ is a load of rubbish, but scarily only emphasises the media’s role in normalising assault. “Rape is always a crime; (good on you for acknowledging that, you’re so intelligent) how much of one depends on the context.” Forgive me if I’m wrong, but how so Sarah? Here we go again minimising the severity of sexual assault, undermining those who have been through the pain, showing complete disregard for survivors. She goes on to introduce “some nuance” into the debate by suggesting that Evans should be allowed to return to football because the victim was “drunk” and the “rape was unpleasant but not violent”. I’m not even sure how to respond!? To me it seems laughable, because it genuinely sounds like satire, not that sexual assault should be humourised (but it clearly is, and it’s part of the problem). All I can say is that Vine’s comments, like Finnegan’s are overtly offensive. The heartbreaking truth is that a young woman was raped. “Ched Evans chose to rape a 19-year-old woman who was incapable of consent.” Surely this is what we need to be focusing on? Not the nuance that Evans deserves our support. Claire Carlisle, writing for The Guardian, also utilises some dodgy phrasing in her article: ‘Ched Evans has served his sentence for rape- Should he playfootball again’.
It is important to remember this. Rape does not always follow the archaic narrative that so often constitutes ‘rape’ in the media. The one where the stranger drags you into an alleyway, beats you, strangles you, threatens you at knifepoint and then rapes you. Whilst this does happen, and of course I am not denying this, this narrative is not representative of rape in general, especially if you consider the sad reality that most rapists are actually husbands, or boyfriends, or fathers, or colleagues, or friends. I have taken this passage directly from Pennington’s article as I think it is particularly poignant, and I certainly can’t put it any better myself:
“The vast majority of rape in the UK, as it is worldwide, is perpetrated by men known to the victim. Women are raped daily by men who supposedly love them; after all it is only recently that rape in marriage was made illegal. They are raped by acquaintances, brothers, fathers, employers and the man who lives next door. These men choose to rape. They aren’t confused about consent – they know perfectly well that they are committing rape. They just believe they are entitled to rape anyone they want whenever they want.”
This only highlights the danger of the normalisation of rape in the media. These views show complete disregard for the victim, and talk only of violent men and their ruined lives. The lives that they themselves chose to ruin. We do not need to discuss nuances, or the fact that Evans is a good football player (as if it somewhat reduces the severity of his crime), rather we need to rethink the way we handle domestic violence in the media, we need to be clear in the fact that Ched Evans committed a crime. Ched Evans is a man who committed a brutal sexual assault; a rapist. And rape is violent no matter what. Yes Pennington, “we need journalists and media pundits to undergo mandatory training in victim awareness, trauma, and sexual and domestic violence and abuse.” Ched Evans, you can’t play football? Maybe you should have thought of that before you chose to ruin an innocent woman’s life.
The Feminist Writer: Soprano. Music Student and feminist. University of Bristol. Identify yourself as a feminist today and you’re automatically assumed to be a man-hating, whinny liberal; we need to challenge this perception. Feminism is misunderstood and it seems important to fight against these misconceptions. @amymarieaustin
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