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U.K. media’s coverage of sexual assault

December 28, 2008

There’s a lot about the U.K.’s laws around sexual assault that I find incomprehensible. Rules about whether it’s permissible to enter victim’s sexual history into court proceedings still seem outdated to me. And the U.K. media provides little to no insights into the ethics of reporting on sexual assault.

Take, for instance, the recent conviction of nine young men between the ages of 14 and 17 for the rape of a 14-year-old neighbor on their east London council estate (i.e. housing estate/projects). I’ll say outright that what happened to this young woman is reprehensible, but as I attempt to follow the case and parse the subtext, I get increasingly apoplectic. In an extensive interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today program, the survivor described what happened last April when she was attacked and the aftermath.

Under the guise of providing a public service, the Beeb asked this young black woman to relive a horrendous ordeal. Would a white woman be asked to be as self-sacrificing provide the same “public service”? How much would her race and that of her attackers play in the decision to broadcast the interview? If I draw myself a little chart to determine how race plays into reportage, I can’t conclude that this young woman wasn’t merely exploited (again) to stoke Britain’s racist, classist, and ageist paranoia that “hoodies” are gonna stab ya and rape “your” women. Why am I “making this about race?” Because even when the folks involved are white, it’s about race.

I think it’s imperative we remain vigilant of that nexus between race and gender when it comes to rape culture and how it (sometimes not-so-cleverly) recasts  outmoded stereotypes. The Daily Mail and tabloids of its ilk have, of course, run amock using racist verbiage such as “braying pack” and “a burgeoning underclass of youths – devoid of any sense of right or wrong – exist outside of conventional society’s moral boundaries.” They also put together “statistics” like these:

“The majority of victims – 60 per cent – were white, while 28 per cent were black.

Scotland Yard identified certain characteristics among attackers. Around 40 per cent of suspects were described as Afro-Caribbean. A further 13 per cent were of Indian or Pakistani appearance”

It’s a blatant attempt to cast a colonial light and distract from other statistics that maintain that rape is, more often, an intra-racial crime.

Such race-baiting does little to tackle the root causes of sexual assault and ignores the lack of consent in a culture that sees binge drinking down the pub and non-consensual, or at least regrettable, sex as normal.

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