The other day when I was reading my morning paper, I noticed a nice little article about how unfair victim blaming is in rape cases. The journalist commented on how we focus too much on what the victim was wearing when she was attacked, and how many drinks she had had, when we should be focusing on who the rapist was, and how in seven hells did it occur to him to violate another human being like that.
It was a heart warming little article, save for one thing. It began with the phrase “A young woman was raped in [where ever it was, I forget].” I wish journalists would consider the way rapes and other violent attacks are reported. If you haven’t noticed, pay attention the next time you’re reading a newspaper! You’ll find news such as these:
Gang of four teenagers kicked and mugged an old lady in the city centre.
Woman ran over a child after stopping to let him cross the road.
Drunk man stabbed two women and one man in front of a snack kiosk.
Young man shot at people from rooftop, killing one, injuring at least six.
Young woman was raped on her way home from a nightclub.
A 13-year-old girl was raped at teenagers’ house party.
When reporting violent assaults, journalists often use the active voice, highlighting the perpetrator by placing him/her as the subject of the sentence. But when the violent assault is a rape, the passive voice is more common in the news reports, drawing the focus on the victim. Granted, sometimes you get news of other violent assaults where the victim is highlighted instead of the perpetrator:
Old lady mugged by a gang of four in the middle of a busy street.
A child was run over by a woman driving a silver Mercedes.
Two women and one man were stabbed while queueing for hot dogs.
One killed, six injured in the rooftop shooting.
But I’ve never seen reports of rape along the lines of:
Middle-aged man raped a woman after stalking her home from a nightclub.
15-year-old boy raped a 13-year-old girl at a house party.
When reporting rapes, for some reason it is the custom to draw the attention to the victim and to ignore the perpetrator. The news is always that a woman gets raped, never that a man rapes a woman. The choice of words in a news report is a small thing, but it has an impact on our beliefs and attitudes concerning rape.
When news reports focus on the victim, then we also focus on the victim, and we wonder if her clothes were provocative, or if she was walking all alone in the streets in the middle of the night, possibly a little drunk… when we should be interested in who the rapist was, what made him commit such a horrible deed and how to stop him and the likes of him from raping people in the future!
That’s how we deal with shootings, stabbings and muggings! We don’t wonder if the victims were dressed in a way that made the shooter or the mugger pick them as targets. We don’t shake our heads and think, “Bad luck! The victims shouldn’t have been walking on that street at that time! If they had been sober, somewhere else, with some other people, they would never have got shot/mugged/stabbed! Maybe the victims should have dressed more demurely to avoid the attention of the shooter/mugger/stabber.”
Such thoughts do not occur to us when we read about shootings, muggings or stabbings. Our interest is focused on the perpetrator. We want to know who did it, and how to put an end to it. We want the police and the courts to take firm action to catch and punish the criminals and to prevent further violence.
Shouldn’t that be our main interest in rape cases as well, instead of wondering what the victim was doing wrong?