Victim Shaming and the Media

It is a sad state of affairs when a high profile woman is seen to both downplay the seriousness of rape and victim shame in one fell swoop.

Judy Finnegan’s comments on Loose women beggar belief, but unfortunately highlight the fact that victim shaming and blaming are still a huge problem, and continue to put barriers in the way of men and women coming forward after a sexual assault. Referring to the rape Ched Evans perpetrated as “not violent” as “He didn’t cause any bodily harm to the person”, and then stating that the victim “had far too much to drink”, is reprehensible and so damaging. Also, insisting Evans has “served his time” (2 years of a 5 year sentence) as if that makes it all ok is shocking. If you haven’t seen the incredible faux pas, you can hear it in her own words here. She has now apologised for the remarks, but quite frankly that is too little and too late.

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                Image from BBC News

Government statistics released in January 2013 showed that, on average, 2.5 per cent of females and 0.4 per cent of males said that they had been a victim of a sexual offence (including attempts) in the previous 12 months. This represents around 473,000 adults being victims of sexual offences (around 404,000 females and 72,000 males) on average per year. These experiences span the full spectrum of sexual offences, ranging from the most serious offences of rape and sexual assault, to other sexual offences like indecent exposure and unwanted touching [info from www.gov.uk]. For clarity, in the 12 months to March 2013, the average was 22 rapes recorded per 100,000 adults.

According to Rape Crisis, one reason victims are reluctant to talk about their experiences is a fear of not being believed, or of being blamed for what has happened to them, as well as feelings of shame or self-blame. Every year in the UK, the number of recorded rapes goes up – the figure has been climbing steadily since 2008. Yet despite the staggering figures and improved DNA and forensic testing, up to a third of these cases will be dropped long before getting to a court room.

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              Image from The Guardian

In a week that has seen Oscar Pistorius‘ legal team pull every conceivable sob story out of the hat to justify why his manslaughter conviction should not carry a prison term – apparently he’s “suffered enough” – this is just another chilling reminder that violence against women is not taken anywhere near seriously enough. Today, social worker Joel Maringa told the court that Pistorius was a “cooperative” person who should be sentenced to three years of “correctional supervision”, ie. house arrest. He also said “We are basically not saying that he should be destroyed because he will still be coming back into the community.” What about Reeva Steenkamp? Will she be coming back into the community? No. Because he shot her. Four times.

These kinds of attitudes are everywhere, and coming from all areas and both genders.  In the US, awareness about domestic violence has had a welcome rise for an unwelcome reason – the recent Ray Rice incident, where the pro running back infamously punched and knocked out his fiancée (now wife). In the UK, a staggering 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are the victim of domestic violence. On average about seven women and two men are killed by their current or former partner every month in England and Wales. Does Judy have an idea about how many of these incidents are “non violent”? One would think a woman so often the recipient of gaslighting and belittling by her husband on National TV would have more sympathy…

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In a similar vein, this week the band Maroon 5 caused uproar with their new video for “Animals” – something brought to my attention by Carly Puch’s excellent post on The Good Men Project . We see Adam Levine’s creepy butcher, stalking an unsuspecting customer (played by his real-life wife, Behati Prinsloo), whilst swinging from a pig carcass and rubbing blood all over himself. ‘Loving her’ by breaking into her home and fantasising about having sex with her in a waterfall of blood, Levine’s ‘character’ gives a disturbingly romanticised vision of stalking. RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) criticised the video, calling it “a dangerous depiction of a stalker’s fantasy”, adding “no one should ever confuse the criminal act of stalking with romance”. Having been a victim of stalking myself I certainly concur. Currently in the UK, stalking convictions are up 20%, with 10,535 people in England and Wales prosecuted for stalking and harassment last year. Those are only the ones who have been prosecuted mind. According to the Network for Surviving Stalking,

  • Over 1.2 million women and 900,000 men are stalked every year (according to The British Crime Survey 2004)
  • 8% of women and 6% of men are stalked every year.
  • 19% of women and 12% of men have experienced stalking or harassment at some point in their lives.

Sexy right? No. And neither is rape, domestic abuse or intimate partner violence. Or murder/manslaughter for that matter. And yet, victims are constantly blamed and shamed, prevented from coming forward to report these crimes because if you are told something is your fault often enough you will begin to believe it. Most victims already believe they contributed in some way, particularly when the perpetrator is known to them and alcohol is in the equation.

That is what makes Judy Finnegan’s comments so reprehensible, damaging, and ill-informed. Another high profile voice throwing a shadow of doubt over a victim’s validity, over the veracity of a conviction. That two years is an appropriate amount of time for a person to spend in prison after they have violated another human being in the worst way. A convicted rapist, who many feel should be allowed to just pick up where he left off, playing top-flight professional football, as if his two-year absence was due to some terrible injury and not a heinous crime that he was convicted of.

changeSo far, Jean Hatchet’s petition to the chairman of Sheffield United FC calling for him to refuse to reinstate Evans at the club has over 140,000 signatures. If he was “welcomed home” a terrible message would be sent – football players are role models, and this is one person I hope young men will not look up to.

Let’s hope that the powers that be listen, and don’t join the ranks of those who blame and shame victims and excuse offenders.

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About Deborah Klayman

Deborah is an actress, musician, voice artist and writer based in the UK. She trained at the University of Northumbria, where she gained a 1st Class BA (Hons) in Performance, and at Drama Studio London (Postgraduate Diploma in Acting). Deborah has performed in the UK and overseas in a variety of roles which include Emilia in 'Othello' and Juliana Tesman in 'Hedda Gabler' in rep, Regan in 'King Lear', Mrs Pugh/Polly Garter in 'Under Milk Wood' and Fluellen/Alice in Henry V. An accomplished cellist and singer, the projects she undertakes frequently utilise her musical talents. Film and TV roles include: Geordie in a TV pilot for 'Dead Man's Cardy', Reporter in 'Mission London', Sarah in 'For Better or Worse', and Nurse Tremaine in 'Another Day. Deborah is also a successful voice artist, recording projects for companies such as M&C Saatchi/Silverfish Media, BP, Oxford University Press and The Scottish Sunday Express. Deborah is a talented writer, penning plays and screenplays primarily on issues surrounding social justice. Her first play, 'Janetarium', was one of three selected through the Traverse Theatre's Class Act project and was subsequently staged at the Traverse and published in Theatre Scotland Magazine. She later joined the theatre's Young Writers Group, and continued to write and devise plays throughout her university and drama school training. In 2005, she co-authored "Eve & Lilith" with Jessica Martenson which was produced at that year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe. In 2011, Deborah co-founded Whoop 'n' Wail Theatre Company with friend, collaborator and writing partner Ali Kemp. Their debut production, 'eXclusion', was produced in association with UK charity Women In Prison and toured to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, London's Waterloo East Theatre, and Bracknell's South Hill Park Arts Centre. Their latest venture, "Whoop 'n' Wail Represents...", showcases new writing that puts gender equality centre stage, working with even numbers of female and male writers and directors to stage plays that pass the Bechdel Test. Deborah was one of the Traverse Theatre's 'Traverse Fifty' (a year-long writing attachment in 2013), and Whoop 'n' Wail's play 'My Bloody Laundrette' recently won the Cambridge University Press "Channel the Bard" competition. View all posts by Deborah Klayman

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