Sunday, 5 April 2015

Telling stories about rape

Former All Black Mils Muliaina was arrested last night in connection with a sexual assault in Wales in March.  It's very early days, with no information about the allegation having been made public yet.  When sexual violence is reported in the UK, their justice system does a better job than ours, with 63% of rape cases and 76% of other sexual assault cases resulting in conviction.  (Just to remind ourselves, in Aotearoa just 13% of sexual violation cases reported to Police result in conviction).
This post isn't about that though.  It's about how we tell stories about rape.

In 2013, research from the specialist sexual violence sector looking at how the media report on sexual violence in Aotearoa showed some disturbing stuff: journalists do not understand the law and they do not interview experts, with no articles featuring commentary from specialist academics or researchers and just 8% featuring commentary from community experts.

This means that our news is full of rape myths, because journalists are like everyone else - they grow up in our rape culture.  Despite the importance of the role of the mainstream media in educating the public about sexual violence, the only compulsory reading for student journalists in New Zealand features just three sentences about sexual violence in a 453 page book, and they are not helpful for unlearning rape myths (my emphasis):
“It is illegal to report the victims’ names in any sex crime; it can be unethical and untasteful to describe a sexual crime in graphic detail. It is particularly important to be cautious about taking sides in the reporting: with emotions running high, false complaints are often made regarding sexual offences. Both sides can be very believable in their differing accounts.”
For the record, Police estimate 8% of reports about sexual violence they receive are false.   It's far more common for people to choose not to report to the Police - just one in ten survivors report.  Both of these figures come from New Zealand Police, that bastion of feminist activism.

The media research identified six key areas where newspaper reporting could be more accurate.  As the most fulsome report is at Stuff, that's where I'm looking.
  • Sexual violence is not “just sex”
  • It is rare for a survivor to lie about being raped
Stuff doesn't call what has happened "sex".  Yet.  Watch this space.  It does, however, set the scene for the night in question like this:
 But rugby-mad Cardiff is a renowned party town, and the Welsh capital comes alive after a big match.
Come alive with the raping, Stuff?  Or is there already an inference that what happened may not be that serious?  Maybe the person calling this sexual assault - who we know nothing about, yet - confused partying with sexual assault?
  • Violent stranger danger sexual violence is rare
  • Unfortunately, rapists do not stand out 
There's nothing yet about the third point.  If this myth gets played up, it will reflect in later coverage describing all the ways Mr Muliaina is not a violent stranger - if the victim isn't physically hurt say, if there were no weapons involved - there will be implications that what happened probably wasn't sexual assault.  Despite the fact that perpetrators more typically use alcohol, coercion and isolation to rape - not physical force.  If the person alleging the sexual assault knew Mr Muliaina, of course this would make the sexual assault more typical - despite rape myths to the contrary - too.

This case has hit the headlines because Mr Muliaina is good at rugby.  So he stands out in that way, and we hear about what a popular All Black he was, that he's married with a son, that he has "silky" skills and a gold medal.  We know which teams he's played for and his solicitor and agent have both been quoted by Stuff.  

One of the ways news stories do a real disservice to communities around sexual assault is when they give a distorted view about people who rape.  Unfortunately, rapists can be good at sport, they can be fathers and husbands and medal winners.  They nearly always have other people in their lives who say good things about them.  Even though it would be handy, no rapists have it tattooed on their foreheads.  So while we will no doubt hear from many, many people how wonderful Mr Muliaina is over the next few weeks, none of this means he did not commit sexual assault. To decide that, we'll have to hear about his understanding of consent and his behaviour that night.
  • Being raped is worse than being accused of rape
  • Sexual violence has no excuses 
We know nothing about how the person alleging sexual assault is doing from the Stuff article, whether they are experiencing all of the symptoms associated with trauma that are common for survivors.  Panic attacks.  Depression.  Anxiety.  Insomnia.  Eating disruption.  Alcohol and substance misuse.  Fear.  

We do know:
The arrest could spell the end for the 34-year-old's 15-year career playing top-level rugby, just a week after he signed a fresh deal with Italian side Zebre. 
We also know that Mr Muliaina's agent was "shocked" and his coach "stunned".  We know he was "hauled away" by police "in the full glare of news cameras".  Police, apparently, "pounced without warning."  

So we already know this has been awful for Mr Muliaina.  

We also already have a handy excuse lined up.  Not only is Cardiff a party town, coming alive, but Mr Muliaina has a historic problem with alcohol.  


The coverage of this case isn't gold star awful.  Yet.  But Stuff have made a valiant effort to shore up several of the myths New Zealand news coverage suffers from.  Let's hope the rest do better.  


Jamie said...

Innocent until proven guilty...Obviously you haven't heard of that

Another thing you probably haven't heard of is all the muslim rape gangs operating in Europe

Crime rates broken down by nationality in Denmark show that individuals from Muslim countries make up eight of the top nine places on the list. In addition, 2012 figures show that Somalis were sentenced for crimes, including innumerable sexual assaults, almost ten times more often than those with Danish citizenship.

"Indeed, more than half of all convicted rapists in Denmark have an immigrant background, according to official statistics, despite the fact that immigrants and their descendants account for less than 10 per cent of the population"

Or this...

"In 2012, it emerged that over a thousand mostly white young girls in the northern England town of Rotherham were systematically groomed, trafficked, beaten and sexually abused by rape gangs consisting of mainly Pakistani Muslim men"

Y'all will probably delete/dismiss my comment coz it doesn't fit your narrative

LudditeJourno said...

Hi Jamie,
your comment is irrelevant to this post, racist and offensive - and I'm not going to bother to respond to it because I think you're trolling. I will delete any future comments that are similarly offensive.
Feel free to make comment - without racism, misogyny, victim-blaming or feminist bashing - on what I've actually written about if you truly want to engage.
Ta, LJ

Jamie said...


Anonymous said...

I was going to say something alone the lines of what Jamie said but decided to not waste my time. Just so you can't plead ignorance I'll point out, as many others have done, Islam is not a race so pointing out the consistent treatment of women as a chattel by the men is not racism.