Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

The faceless woman

I want to raise the issue of the visual imagery that newspapers and websites use for articles about rape. I have just read this article on the Telegraph website:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11729476/Sex-Why-I-was-celibate-for-5-years.html?placement=CB1

It isn’t specifically about rape, but it does refer to the fact that the female subject, and author of the article, is a rape survivor. She isn't anonymous, her face is shown in a couple of photos and she is named.

So why did the Telegraph also need to dredge up a stock 'faceless' photo to put alongside the caption "Shaheen realised she'd been raped in the past"? She's not anonymous, so there was no need for this stock image of a faceless woman.

When you see articles about sexual offences or domestic violence (usually general articles rather than ones about specific cases, but images like this often also accompany features about individual victims), a large amount of the time they are accompanied by a stock photo of a woman HIDING HER FACE (usually head in hands). The message this sends is that these women are faceless, ashamed, unable to look the world in the eye. No wonder we have a cultural belief that being the victim of a sexual offence is something to be ashamed of!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-33266085 is one example, but there are lots of others, as it happens consistently.

In contrast, articles about other crimes often use a stock photo that is a generic 'police' image. Common examples are a police uniform (without the head), a close up of the blue lights on a police car, or a close up of a 'do not cross - police line' tape.

This 'face hiding' trope is only ever used for articles about sexual offences or domestic violence, and I’d like to see it stop. The imagery we use matters, and I think the use of stock images like these adds to the negative cultural narratives surrounding the women who are victims of these crimes. It also has unpleasant voyeuristic undertones when compared against the much more neutral imagery that is used for articles about other crimes.

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