Passive reporting of gender crimes allows society to ignore their backyards

Jonathan Lindsell’s article published by Liberal Conspiracy:

Trigger warnings: rape, sexual assault, child abuse.

“Man fucks woman; subject verb object.”

That’s how Catharine MacKinnon, American feminist legal professor, characterised Western gender relations and savaged pornography. Women are objectified statues, men are aggressive actors.

But if you look at the media’s treatment of gender-related crimes in the past few months, you’ll see something different:

“Victim was assaulted; Object verb.” *

That’s how sexual crimes are reported. ‘X children were abused’, ‘Y women are raped in India each day’. Discussion overwhelmingly uses the passive voice and focuses on the victim to the perpetrator’s exclusion, unless the aggressor is notable – an ethnic minority, a celebrity, a religious figure. Otherwise rape and abuse are described as if they ‘just happen’ like freak weather events.

This absolves the public from considering whether Diane Abbot’s ‘crisis’ is a genuine problem in their immediate community – rape is either a misfortune that happens to unwary women, or a vile crime committed by people so different from the reader that their motivations are wholly alien.

Society has a standard narrative for how rape ‘just happens’ – usually a young, attractive girl, alone at night, wearing inappropriate clothing, who indulged in excess, attacked by a stranger. Passive reporting feeds this trope by focusing on victims and minimising the rapist’s role. He just ‘happened’ to be tempted when all necessary factors were in place.

The narrative is dangerous. In the eyes of the public and of juries, it discredits stories which don’t fit. Abused male or trans*people are ignored. Likewise accusations from women who are unattractive, sensible, or lived with their assailant face ridicule. The myth thrives despite SlutWalk’s efforts to dispel the idea that women’s clothing or actions constitute ‘asking for rape’ and UK government statistics showing that 90% of serious sexual assault victims know their attacker.

Whereas most sex-crime coverage investigates what personal failures caused a horrific ‘accident’ to happen to the (culpable) female victim, there’s a flip-side. When the perpetrator is different, comfortably distant from the largely white male middle-class world of today’s writers, then it’s fine to pick them apart.

This is especially evident in recent stories: Dehli bus rape, Oxford abuse ring, Catholic Church scandals and Operation Yewtree. In each case, the perpetrators are either foreign, non-Christian, or live highly atypically. Priests are celibate and secretive; celebrities extremely extrovert.

Although there was still gratuitous victim-blaming in these cases, the media switched focus to the ‘abusive cultures’ and their immorality.

This was highlighted in Joseph Harker’s piece, It’s time to face up to the problem of sexual abuse in the white community. Harker was satirising the media, I’m not. By deploying the passive tense in ‘normal’ sex crimes and demonising minorities in sensational cases, we blind ourselves to that fact that, statistically, we almost certainly know such people ourselves.

Supporting victims is important, but so is acknowledging and exploring how violent misogynist attitudes flare in all communities, and run deeper than we’d admit. Rape culture exists, and until we start to think about the rapists, it will continue. That’s unacceptable.”

*Technically ‘patient’ rather than ‘agent’

Plenty of quality discussion in the LibCon comments section but welcome here too!

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