Rape culture and the practice of victim blaming are inherently a linked phenomena, and both are prevalent in Australian society. The existence of a rape culture which normalizes sexual violence and blames rape victims for the attacks against them strongly affects the Australian criminal justice system, influencing both the outcomes of rape trials and the treatment of rape victims. And who can we thank for this? The media. The influence of the media with the issue of rape is undeniable. Their unbending coverage and their relentless discussion of the victims fuels the entire issue of victim blaming, and further accredits the ideas about rape being the victim’s fault.
The influence of social media and the way of which that media users can convey a perspective or opinion about the innocence of a perpetrator in a rape case, supresses the actual issue- rape. Don’t believe me? Just think back to the horrendous 2012 rape case in America, whereby a girl, who chose to remain nameless, was raped and was reported in an undignified nature by the media, who blamed her actions for the rape occurring, and further expressed empathy for the perpetrators.
The girl attended a party with her classmates in the town of Steubenville, Ohio. At this party she became incapacitated by alcohol and entered a blackout state in which she was unable to defend or think for herself. Once rendered defenceless, two of her male classmates, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, sexually assaulted her. They took photographic evidence of their crimes and sent them to fellow students, as well as posting them on various social media sites. When the girl woke up the next morning, she had no memory of the attack. She discovered what had been done to her through her classmates’ social media posts and messages, stumbling upon photos of her naked body being violated by Mays and Richmond. She and her family contacted the police, and rape charges were filed against the perpetrators. The ensuing trial would prove a testament to the prevalence of rape culture and victim blaming, and their effect on rape cases in the criminal justice sphere.
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Much of the news coverage on the case expressed sympathy for the perpetrators. In her coverage of the case, CNN reporter Poppy Harlow stated, “It is incredibly difficult to watch as these two young men who had such promising futures, star football players, very good students…literally watched as their lives fell apart”.
Unfortunately, this reaction is also a common phenomenon in Australian media today. The media tends to home in on the victim, calling her names and questioning her past sexual history, or completely ignore her in favour of sympathizing with her rapist(s). Particularly prevalent is the practice of “victim blaming,” in which victims are accusing of playing a role in their own victimization. What they wore, how they behaved, and if they were drunk, seems to matter more than the fact that the actual perpetrator chose to ignore the word ‘no’ or took advantage of the victim. The only thing that the victim will get is a declaration from society that screams ‘It was your fault’, and the media to destroy their dignity and their reputation.
The media, through their coverage of rape and cases associated with it, establish victim blaming, and therefore represent rape as being something which the victims are responsible for, and which is more devastating for the perpetrators. Enough is enough. It’s about time that women are heard, not told that it’s their fault. It’s about time that our mothers, daughters and sisters are able to come forward without the fear of being scrutinised for what they wore, how they acted, and if they were drunk or not. The time for change is now. We must remove the beliefs and assumptions that have allowed for rape culture and victim blaming to continue, and which has continued in the media. Its cases like the one discussed earlier that highlight the wrongful representation of rape. This is not okay. We need to change the representation of rape in the media. I’m not okay with it, and neither should you be.