Rape, titillation and media

I am well aware that it is sort of taboo to read rape reports with the same critical stance that one would apply to porn, however, a few things have been catching my eye lately. Take this from The Evening Standard, for example (emphasis mine):

Three boys convicted of gang-raping girl, 13

They stripped her on the ninth floor of the Bermondsey block after she had arrived thinking she was attending an after-school club.[…]

She was found sobbing in the street by her father[…]

Mr Wilkins said the three rapists then appeared, grabbing her wrist to stop her leaving. One said: “Let’s have sex.”[…]

Another boy then rifled through her bag, before pulling her onto his lap and demanding she perform a sex act.[…]

“She covered her face but he proceeded to slap her in the face,” added the prosecutor. A third boy pulled a knife, held it to her face, and said: “Do what he tells you.”[…]

She was passed from one to another, before being stripped of her lower clothes and raped. Eventually they let her go.

Are you outraged? Did you pay attention to the parts I highlighted? Does it make you uncomfortable? Does it make you feel guilty that you are uncomfortable by the rape of a 13 year old child? Does the guilt, in turn, acquire an almost morbid quality because it is taboo? Because it is forbidden? Does this unintended fascination distract from the fact that a child was horribly abused?

Go ahead, find reports of rape in the news. Mentally highlight the parts designed to repulse and titillate simultaneously. See what happens? The narrative of rape in the news is almost pornographic in nature. Designed to arouse while it pretends to objectively present facts. Facts alone do not sell. Facts are boring, they lack in showmanship so they must be dressed up in storytelling. And the storytelling of rape in the media is one of sexual desire gone wrong. It’s one of synchronized condemnation and raw exhibitionism. What happens in turn is that readers are outraged by the individual cases while at the same time are, due to lack of references and framing, unable to contextualize rape within a culture of misogyny and social violence. A raped child outrages and titillates. Yet, the way the narrative operates, it says nothing of the environment in which these same abused children are growing up, the condoned sexual violence (see yesterday’s post about Yale rape apologists) and the language used to describe these occurrences.

What would happen if newspapers published a daily list of rapes and sexual assaults reported the day before? Just one or two lines containing the city and a very brief description of the circumstances, followed by the next victim and the next one and the next one. I contend that such reporting would be much more powerful than the current “rape as sanctioned erotica”, if only because it would be impossible to ignore the numbers.

However, the numbers do lack in histrionics, so I won’t be holding my breath.

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