Portrayal of Rape in Media


Media Reporting on rape

The identity of the victim should be safeguarded at all costs. ILLUSTRATION: Raja Taimur Hassan

When a woman tries to get her voice heard regarding matters such as rape, she is confronted with a media which is drenched in patriarchy itself.”

Karachi: They say that old habits die-hard. This might be true, but when it comes to old mindsets, changing old habits seems like a piece of cake. Indeed, altering the thinking processes of people is much more difficult than introducing them to some new, better habits. Hence, while our society has progressed in leaps and bounds, and when it comes to technology (if grandparents playing Candy Crush on their iPads, and housemaids using cell phones), it has remained woefully stubborn to let go of its patriarchal ethos.

This becomes apparent in numerous little ways. For one, despite women achieving considerable freedom and equality, men continue to overpower women. Even though the world is a much freer place in terms of gender equality as compared to the days of the past, the fact remains that it is still a man’s world. Women are no longer restricted to the domestic sphere, yes. They attend colleges and universities, they maintain competitive careers, and they lead independent lives. At the same time, women also continue to get raped, sexually abused, and domestically violated. The modern woman might be permitted to lead a life of her own choice, but on a man’s terms. She must remain submissive, or be prepared for a beating from her husband. She has to dress appropriately for fear of being sexually targeted. She must not venture out alone in the dark, unless she wants to be raped. Whatever choices she makes, her life continues to be overshadowed by a fear of the man. This does not stop here. When a woman tries to get her voice heard regarding matters such as these, she is confronted with a media which is drenched in patriarchy itself.

Rape, unarguably one of the most sensitive gender-based crimes, happens to be the most discussed, yet neglected topic of discourse. While it may receive undue media attention, unfortunately that attention does little to make a positive impact on either the society, or the victim. The nature of this crime has far reaching consequences for the victim, especially in this society, where traces of gender inequality can be found in every nook and corner. It is for this very reason that the identity of the victim should be safeguarded at all costs. Unfortunately, however, the media seems to do the exact opposite, with the result that the entire population of the country is aware of not only the incident, but also the minutest details of the victim, her family, and her life (Ahmar, 2013). Long after her physical scars have healed, she will be remembered in her community; her identity inevitably, permanently shaped by the incident.

While the victim receives undue attention from the media, the rapist, too, is targeted. However, in its attempt to vehemently condemn the incident, the media portrays the rapist as some sort of ‘psychopath’ or a ‘monster’, which ultimately leads the implications to be “deeply invested in the notion that the rapist is not like us. Someone, something that is beyond the bonds of humanity, a howling, drooling, perverted maniac” (Stemming the Tide: Countering Public Narratives Of Sexual Violence). This establishes that the trend of constantly pushing the rapist to the bounds of society, in order to ignore the possibility of one existing at our workplace, or even our home. It perpetuate the message that ‘normal men can’t rape’. Even worse, incidents where a female is raped by someone she knows, or is related to, are hardly recognized as ‘real’ rape by the relevant authorities. Thus, countless cases of rape by peers remain unaddressed and un-discussed, thereby allowing sexual crimes to flourish in society.

 In order to assess media portrayal of rape, the British Psychological Society (BPS) Division of Forensic Psychology issued a press release of research, which scrutinized the role that situational and personality factors play in sexual coercion. The study tested whether some men were more likely to engage in sexual coercion, if a woman was dressed provocatively, intoxicated with alcohol, behaved flirtatious, and/or was known to be sexually promiscuous. The woman was portrayed under these varying circumstances in a hypothetical intimate encounter. The study found that some men were more likely to engage in sexual coercion, if the woman was provocatively dressed. The other variables (intoxication, flirtation, promiscuity) were not associated with coercion. These findings were clearly stated in the press release issued by BPS. One of the most well-known newspapers, The Daily Telegraph, printed an article regarding the study and its finding. However, interestingly, the article went beyond the original study and its findings as articulated in the press release. The Telegraph headline stated: “Scientists say women who drink alcohol, wear short skirts and are outgoing are more likely to be raped”. Both, the headline and the article, were contrary to the study’s findings. Furthermore, the focus of the media story leaned towards the behavior of the hypothetical woman, rather than on the behavior of the male participants who actually took part in the study (Flowe, Shawe, Nye, & Jamel, 2009).

There is no arguing the fact that emotive headlines capture the public’s attention, thereby increasing the circulation of newspapers. However, there needs to be a degree of accountability regarding the possible damage because of such haphazard reporting. Newspaper articles and channel headlines that frame rape victims’ behavior in a stereotypical manner may fuel public misconceptions of sex crimes, consequently leading to negative outcomes for victims, rape-case prosecution and even public safety.

Works Cited

  1. Ahmar, T. (2013, September 22). How the media should cover cases of rape. Retrieved from http://tribune.com.pk/: http://tribune.com.pk/story/607813/how-the-media-should-cover-cases-of-rape/
  2. Flowe, H. D., Shawe, S. E., Nye, E., & Jamel, J. (2009). Rape stereotyping and public delusion. British Journalism Review , 20 (4), 21-25.
  3. Stemming the Tide: Countering Public Narratives Of Sexual Violence). (n.d.). Rape in the Media | Rape Crisis. Retrieved from rapecrisis.org.za: http://rapecrisis.org.za/rape-in-south-africa/rape-in-the-media/

The writer is a Student of Institute of Business Management (IoBM) Karachi.



About Social and Development log of Pakistan (SDLP)

Social and Development log of Pakistan (SDLP) is an attempt to highlights real public issues, which include social, economic and political issues, and complete policy analysis of that issues having experts opinion and analysis on it. SDLP will raise all public issues on the basis of facts and try to advocate at the highest forum which may influence the policy-makers and draw their attention towards the real problem. SDLP also welcomes contributions to our blog. For that you may send your queries/suggestions/articles etc at rajataimur1@gmail.com. Twitter: https://twitter.com/SDLPak or @taimur__ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SDLPak
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