Obsessive coverage of 'cry rape' cases and public perception
Tuesday, 19 January 2010
Another day, another 'cry rape' story for the Daily Mail. This time the paper gleefully tells the tale of a woman (a businesswoman, no less) who has been jailed for 18 months for making a false allegation of rape.
While it's difficult to quantify false accusations as a percentage of total cases, the fact remains that it's a small one - yet such cases receive a disproportionate amount of attention from the media. The Mail and its ilk are repeat offenders, rarely featuring a story involving rape unless it's one where a woman's allegations have been proved wrong - unless of course, the rape victim happens to be beautiful, white, virginal and wealthy, in which case tragedy is laid on with a trowel.
The problem is that when the media continues to publicise such cases yet ignore the majority of shocking and disgusting attacks against women, the poor rape conviction rate and the rape culture that exists in our society, we end up with the situation we have at present, where a woman who has been raped is automatically assumed by many to be a liar simply out to ruin an innocent man's life.
Not in the case of any other crime does the public so readily assume that the victim must have made it all up. Take any news story involving rape on the internet and you can guarantee that there'll be one vile misogynist comment after the other, accusing the victim of all sorts of things while sympathizing with the accused. This has become particularly noticeable when the cases involve an allegation of date rape, no doubt down to a series of stories in recent years which have painted it as little more than a myth.
Yesterday Peter Tatchell wrote about the case of a group of men cleared of raping a woman after it was revealed she had spoken online about her group sex fantasies. Judge Robert Brown urged the jury not to return a guilty verdict as he considered this revelation to be the moment "her credibility was shot to pieces". In his piece for Comment is Free, Tatchell says:
"The judge and prosecutor appear to have come close to suggesting that the alleged victim had, by sharing her group sex fantasies, invited the rape; that given her racy sexual mores she had only herself to blame. Having heard she was open to the idea of an orgy, the five men were, it seems, entitled to believe that she was theirs for the taking."
He quite rightly goes on to point out that it seems like a disturbing throwback to the days when courts routinely blamed a woman for her own rape, citing her clothes or her behaviour which proved too irresistible for men who could not be expected to do anything else under the circumstances. As he concludes, it's truly unbelievable that in 2010, an allegation of rape should be disbelieved because a woman's 'morals'.
Wise words there, but unfortunately I made the mistake of reading the comments - some of which seem to insinuate that the woman deserved whatever happened to her and questioned her credibility - along with a few jokey remarks (now compulsory, it seems, as a response to stories about rape) about the concept of consent. It was a common criticism of the woman's allegations that she 'had no evidence' to support them, despite the fact that the case was halted before evidence was presented.
As long as the press continues to cover rape cases in a way which suggests the majority of allegations are made up and that the victim is often to blame for the violence against her, public attitudes towards victims will never change. If the media parrots certain views often enough they come to be taken as gospel and all too quickly, the first reaction to rape being mentioned is that 'most women make it up anyway'. I've heard it among people I know when I've explained what Reclaim the Night is all about or when I've brought up conviction rates. Comments from people I wouldn't have down as rape apologists and misogynists, nevertheless there's nothing that satisfies some people more than a rape allegation proved untrue.