Rape in the headlines: is there a war on?

Trigger warning for rape

A quick look at the headlines today reveals a bucketload of stories about rape, sexual abuse and sexual assault. From the utterly unsurprising revelation that the police had heard complaints about Jimmy Savile and did precisely fuck all to the lead singer of a band appearing in court charged with conspiracy to rape a baby. From the death of one of the Delhi gang rapists to the ongoing fallout in the SWP over their utter failure to deal with sexual violence. All the way round to this utter shit-turd in the Daily Mail declaring that it’s actually the fault of teenage girls that they get sexually harassed and assaulted by powerful men [clean link, but don’t read it if you don’t want to spend the rest of the day furious/sad/triggered].

Is the media actually starting to care? Is this war finally going to be fought, colours nailed to the mast and the battle lines being drawn? On the one side vile old rapists, the cops and Petronella Wyatt, and on the other, everyone else? Could it possibly be that that is what is happening at last?


To quote @FutureFutures, who encapsulated the problem perfectly in two words, rape sells.

They aren’t actually interested in reporting the nagging background reality of the fact that women get raped every single fucking day. They are interested in portraying only that which can be made lurid and reported in exactly the same way as one might report expenses fiddling or a public divorce.

The “real life” magazines have pursued this business model for decades, to the point where sometimes I wonder whether Take A Break editors are contractually obliged to include at least one “RAPED AT KNIFEPOINT BY THE GAS MAN” story per issue.

And it sells. It sells because they instances of rape that get reported are unimaginably horrid to far too many people. What gets put in the newspapers is mercifully rare: the stranger rapes, the celebrity rapists, and so forth. These are the ones deemed newsworthy not due to the fact that what happened was a rape, but rather, the glamour of celebrity or the tears of human tragedy.

For society at large, this war is not being fought. It’s just entertainment, a thing that sells papers and is interesting to read about.

The real war will continue to go unreported, unremarked upon. It is banal to those who set the agenda. It is traumas inflicted daily, it is denial that what happened was a problem. It is a deafening conspiracy of silence. It is rape apologism, trivialisation and dismissal. It is violence, it is manipulation. It is a feeling of unease, a burning desire for vengeance, a tenderness as friends mop away the tears. It is families and friends torn apart over who to believe, it is fear and it is loathing. It is feminists attempting to make noise, silenced by the dominant opinion that there is not a problem. It is support in any way possible.

And the war will rage on, unreported and unremarked upon, because all of these aspects of rape and rape culture are unmarketable. After all, it is only a certain line that will sell.

9 thoughts on “Rape in the headlines: is there a war on?”

  1. This is exactly it – rape sells. It’s salacious, for a majority it’s something they’ve not had to experience, so it’ll continue to be bought because they can’t relate to the horror, the shame, and the trauma.

    Very much like the whole ‘misery lit’ genre that sprung up a few years ago – one visit to the book section in Woolworths consisted of 3 shelves full of various child abuse stories. 😦

    1. Thanks for reminding me “misery lit” happened, and I think you’re entirely right to draw this comparison; I’d forgotten how popular this was 😦

  2. Hunter S. Thompson put it pretty well when he described “a curious rape mania that rides on the shoulder of American journalism like some jeering, masturbating raven.”

  3. TW

    Also agree, with one minor point – I think Take A Break is one of the more “feminist” magazines out there, and I thoroughly admire their usual editorial stance. (Other mags like That’s Life/Chat etc are less ethical, I’ve found.) TAB is very very anti-VAWG, and usually v pro-solidarity among women. The people who tell their – often horrific – stories of surviving child abuse, or domestic violence, or rape, do seem to gain a measure of comfort from speaking out and being believed, and their survival stories give solace to others in similar positions/catharsis to other survivors (as the letters page shows). I find TAB a pretty uplifting read, for real. And I also believe that TAB etc are doing a great public service by uncovering and exposing the brutal, grinding everyday reality of VAWG. Week after week, the stories keep coming, with no end in sight – but the survivors have a space to speak, and to *be believed*.

  4. I do think the nature of the coverage is changing tho – its less strangers/knifes/bushes/virgins territory – more about powerful known men and banality, rather than evil strange men and dramatic scenarios

  5. The Take a Break family of magazines (Chat and That’s Life being the two others I can think of – the more lurid, downmarket women’s magazines that come out on Thursdays) have started running the prominent, lurid rape stories only in the last year or so — I’ve started noticing that there is always a rape story on the front page of at least one of them, every week. There have always been rape stories, but not like they’ve been in the past few months, and it’s never the gas man either — usually the victim’s father or brother.

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