BBC Radio 4 Today – the same, tired old rape myths dressed up as Flagship News
At Ending Victimisation and Blame, we have become increasingly concerned about how the BBC, on radio and television, reports cases of violence against women and children. We have come across countless examples of the BBC reinforcing rape myths in their coverage as well as minimising male violence against female partners. Coverage of the report “If only someone had listened”: Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups  on BBC Radio 4’s Today program exemplifies our concerns about the BBC’s institutional inability to report on violence against women appropriately.
The first mention of the report is on a brief account by Michael Buchanan on the headline news roundup on the hour, which states that the report is about concerns of a “deep malaise” in response to increasing sexual violence by children against children. They then quote Deputy Children’s Commissioner Sue Berlowitz who clearly asserts that the majority of victims of sexual violence by gangs and groups are girls. Yet, the BBC report reverts to using the term children. It is true that the report itself refers frequently to children and that Berelowitz uses the term herself but there is something disingenuous in which Buchanan’s brief report alternates between naming the victims and eliding them from the story.
The first obvious reference to sex of either perpetrator or victim in “If only someone had listened”  is on page 17:
However, it is quite clear from page 9 that many of the child victims are girls. It is also quite clear that this is not a case of children sexually abusing other children. It is boys, young men and adult men sexually abusing girls. Some boys and young men were also victims of sexual abuse but the vast majority of the victims of sexual abuse were girls. Failing to acknowledge the sex of the victims and perpetrators is a way of erasing male responsibility for the violence they commit. It prevents real analysis of the issues at stake and makes it more difficult to direct support and resources where they are needed. We must be clear about who are the victims and perpetrators; anything else is obfuscation and is unhelpful at best, at worst a deliberate attempt to spread fallacious information.
Whilst this obfuscation between the sex of the perpetrator and victims is deeply troubling, we are extremely concerned about two questions asked by John Humphrys during a brief interview with Berlowitz later in the program. The first question was in response to Berlowitz’ discussion of the links between children viewing violent pornography and them enacting those violent acts, evidence which was from a report earlier in the year. Humphrys questions is:
"We are talking here about children? Not teenagers? Not 16 year olds? Not 17 year olds? We are talking about 11 year olds."
This may seem an innocuous question if referring to sports or reading habits but this was a segment on serious child sexual abuse and rape. This was a completely inappropriate question given the context. The legal definition of child is any person under the age of 18, as Berlowitz makes clear. No child deserves to be the victim of sexual violence and no child should be raised in a culture where committing sexual violence is normalised. Rape is rape, regardless of the age of the perpetrator and the victim.
Berlowitz then goes to discuss the types of abuse perpetrated against young girls including the sexual assault and rape of 11 year old girls by multiple perpetrators aged 15-16. Humphrys responds with:
"And it really is rape. It’s not a question of young children 11 -12 years old going out in a gang and perhaps getting hold of some alcohol and engaging in consensual sex. It’s a question of young girls being physically attacked and raped by boys?"
There are so many things wrong with this brief statement that it is hard to know where to start unpacking it. Firstly, sex without consent is rape. Asking if it is really ‘rape’ is a deeply offensive question lacking any empathy for the child victims of serious sexual offences. Secondly, alcohol prohibits consent. A child who is drunk does not deserve to be sexually abused or raped
Thirdly, children aged 11 – 12 cannot legally consent to sex. The sexual offences act makes it very clear that any intercourse with a child under the age of 13 is rape. Non-consensual offences against children under the age of 13 include sexual assault by penetration, sexual assault and causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity. It is paramount that the media be very clear on this issue: children under the age 13 cannot legally consent. Ever.
Fourthly, Humphrys seems to be implying that rape requires force, which it does not. Rape is sex without consent. Physical force may accompany it but it is not necessary for legal prosecution. Lack of consent includes women and children who are intoxicated, asleep, drugged, coerced, blackmailed or simply in a position where they cannot say no. Implying that rape requires force is an incredibly harmful myth that directly impacts the ability of victims to seek legal recourse.
Fifthly, Humphrys confuses rape and sexual abuse with the laws concerning age of consent. The age of consent is 16 to protect children from other sexually abusive children and adults. Adults over the age of 18 are legally prohibited from having sex with children under the age of 16 for obvious reasons. The laws around age of consent do take into consideration the fact that teenagers can engage in consensual sexual relationships with other teenagers and we have not yet come across a prosecution of two similar aged teenagers who have had a consensual sexual relationship. This said, the laws concerning age of consent are a red herring here. These are very clear cases of sexual abuse and rape, regardless of the age of the perpetrator and the victim. Invoking the age of consent laws only further obfuscates the systemic abuse of young girls. The implication here, from Humphrys, is that some of these cases are only being investigated because of the age of the victim and that some of the very young girls, legally considered to young to consent, were willing participants. This type of inference is incredibly damaging to young victims of sexual violence. It is also blaming the victims for being victims.
This is rape culture in action: the BBC’s flagship news program blithely stating rape myths as fact. The laws on rape and sexual abuse are very clear. At EVB, we believe that all journalists must undergo specific training in order to report on cases of sexual violence and violence against women and children. Claiming that 11 year old girls can ‘consent’ to sex is a statement that no journalist should ever make. We will be making a formal complaint about John Humphrys interview with Sue Berlowitz to the BBC.
This is a link to the BBC Radio 4 program. It starts at around 1:03 and then again at 1:09 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03j9ypd
You can submit a formal complaint to the BBC here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/
We have included the following points in our complaint:
The misrepresentation of the sexual offences act pertaining to the age of children.
Implying that all rape requires force, which is simply wrong.
Suggesting that young girls who have access to alcohol are somehow responsible for their own sexual abuse and rape.
The inclusion of numerous rape myths presented as fact.
- Victim Blaming