FixedIt: He’s not accused of raping a suburb or an outfit

The Daily Telegraph reported that the 32 year old man charged with kidnapping and raping a 12 year old girl and exposing himself multiple times to another girl, 11 years old.

The court must determine his guilt or innocence, this commentary is only about the way the charges against him are described in the media.

The media has a long history of sensationalising crime, particularly sexual crimes. A recent review of research on media reporting of violence against women found sensationalist reporting of sexual crimes was common. When white men are charged with sexual violence against women or children they don’t know (and therefore cannot be vilified by race) they are turned into monsters. They are clearly segregated from “normal” men and “stranger danger” myths are significantly over inflated to again make clear that men who commit these crimes are deviant monsters, not the bloke who lives next door or plays in your footy team on weekends.

Nicknames for rapists are a common means of dehumanising the victim, the perpetrator and the crime.

In this case the alleged victims are not even mentioned in the headline, they’re replaced by the name of a suburb and the style of clothing the accused man was wearing during the alleged rape. They’re children and should not be invisible in this process.

The perpetrator has the right to the presumption of innocence but the public has a right to a clear understanding of the charges against him. He was not accused of raping a suburb or an outfit. He was accused of raping a 12 year old girl and exposing himself to an 11 year old. Those basic details of the charges against him belong in the headline.

There is a reason headlines matter so much.

Something like 80 percent of the headlines we see, we never click through to read the article. We’re not necessarily thinking very much about the headlines we don’t click on, but we see them. And without being consciously aware that it’s happening they are still describing something to us. When they fit our subconscious bias or when they’re underpinned myths about violence and repeat them over and over again, they reinforce them in our minds, but we don’t really notice that it’s happening.

The things we don’t notice are far more dangerous than the things we do notice.

Clarity in reporting and avoiding the passive voice and are among the first things journalists are taught. Which is why the constant use of passive voice and unclear reporting on violence against women stands out so much.

If all the violent crimes committed by men were reported in the active voice with the perpetrators and their crime as the subject of every headline, it would be overwhelming. Because it is overwhelming.

We are journalists and it is not our job to erase the truth so our audience is not made to feel uncomfortable. Our job is to describe what is happening in our society. And the sad truth is that around 90 percent of violent crimes are committed by men. Avoiding this fact doesn’t make it less true but it does make it much more difficult to address the underlying cause.

Headlines matter and this is why FixedIt exists.

FixedIt is an ongoing project to push back against the media’s constant erasure of violent men and blaming of innocent victims. If you would like to help fund it – even $5 a month makes a big difference – please consider becoming a Patron


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