Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Media coverage of rape trails

I've been watching the coverage of the murder trail of the man accused of raping and murdering Emma Agnew and my mind keeps lingering on the same question: do we actually need to know all the gory details?

I know that a robust media is an important part of democracy but I still can't help but cringe every time I read the graphic reporting of this case, in particular of a Dunedin women who allegedly had a very narrow escape from this man. It pains me that these women having gone through such a brutal experience then have to relive it not just in the courtroom but that their story then becomes part of a media feeding frenzy.

Sure the witness might be under name suppression but that doesn't mean that the people around her aren't aware that the anonymous person is her and that she might now want to share all the graphic details of her experience with them. Yet not only did she have to share this experience with a packed courtroom but also the entire country via the fourth estate. But I'm left wondering what purpose it serves that we all know that she was raped vaginally, and anally, and that the accused penetrated her with his fingers and punched her hard in the vagina at least twice other than to boost newspaper sales and feed our bizarre fascination with crime.

9 comments:

Hugh said...

Well, to look at it another way, isn't acknowledging the gory details a good way to make people aware of how traumatic rape is, and perhaps be a step towards mobilising public opinion for an overhaul of the way the state treats rapists and rape victims.

enzer said...

No we do not need the details in glorious technicolour.

Especially at dinner time when the nine year old daughter is watching the news.

Setting the table now incudes the handy positioning of the remote...

Alison said...

My feelings are mixed. I see what you're saying hugh, but I think two factors override that;
the first is that we only hear rape details when they are gory. That reinforces the idea that rape doesn't count as rape unless it's gory, which helps people discount date rape, rape by a partner or friend, or rape where the pressure is exerted through emotional bullying rather than brutal physical force.

My other concern is for other rape victims. Do they really deserve to have such details broadcast so publicly, and generally without any kind of warning? I haven't yet heard any of these news reports issue a warning before launching in to the details, and was really shocked when I first heard them broadcast on National Radio yesterday.

The ex-expat said...

Hugh,
Like Allison I hear what you are saying but it seems the only time rape gets taken seriously is when the gory details are presented and when it fits the sterotype of a dodgy stranger in a street who victimizes a young woman.

When the sterotype doesn't fit and the details aren't presented we are told, well she was drunk and probably asking for it.

And again for some rape victims knowing that their experience would be dissected not only in a public court room but also by the rest of the country via the mainstream media is also a deterrent to going through the justice system. Eg. the English rugby players who allegedly raped the young woman.

Anna said...

Alison, I think you're right.

I can't stand the way the news thinks of itself now as a completely commercial enterprise, seeking to entertain and therefore attract viewers and advertising dollars. It makes this voyeuristic phenomenon even worse. I have a real bee in my bonnet about the way news programmes try to manufacture news - for example, there was a rash of news items about facebook a while ago because the young people were into it and it must have looked like a ratings winner. None of these news items were at all newsworthy.

The sickest thing in this vein I have seen was on the Stuff quiz during the deposition of Clayton Weatherston. The question was, 'How many times is Clayton Weatherston alleged to have stabbed Sophie Ellis?'. There were four answers to choose from, all over two hundred.

The deliberate blurring of news and entertainment is absolutely cynical and completely commercial in motivation, I think.

tripod said...

The details are horrific but our justice system needs to be open.

I empathise with Alison's views regarding the trauma of being a complainant in a rape trial, but in my opinion the need for transparency in the justice system means that the evidence against the accused should ordinarily be public.

I agree an overhaul of rape law is long overdue, particularly in relation to the admissibility of evidence of a complainant's sexual history.

ms poinsettia said...

I was irritated by TV3's reporting of this case this morning, where apparently the women in Dunedin was the victim of a 'sex attack'. Has the word 'rape' become verboten or something? Because 'sex attack' certainly does not carry the same connotation as 'rape' - having not followed the case, I was wondering what exactly that meant.

muerk said...

I agree. The gory details were not about having an open justice system or highlighting the horror of rape, it's about selling media coverage to get the advertising dollar.

I think this is victimising the person raped all over again, but this time it's to make a buck.

homepaddock said...

We don't get all the gory details of other offences so don't need them for rape.

A related concern is that police may have to release video tapes of a victim's evidence to the accused:
http://homepaddock.wordpress.com/2008/09/13/the-judge-is-right/