Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

Victim Blaming by Oxford Mail

I rarely visit local news outlets online websites. A link to an article stating the outcome to the inquiry into Thames Valley Police’s failings regarding the Oxford child rape gang was tweeted into my timeline so I followed to the Oxford Mail’s website to read the decision about how the police failed to protect a vulnerable victim of serious sexual abuse from further assaults. The report quoted the Judge as stating their inaction was a ‘lamentable failure’. As disheartening as this news was, I was neither shocked nor surprised. This only confirmed what I knew. Authorities fail victims. As with all online news websites, underneath the article there were links to other local news. I was drawn towards a particular article, not because I thought it was a report of a rape trial, but because I anticipated it to be in regards to a court case of a woman charged with false accusation. This may surprise you, but I find these reports interesting as I have been drawn into discussing false allegations on Twitter. Types who purport the frequency of such malicious allegations often have few statistics to justify the prevalence of this crime. They also often claim that people who make wrongful reports of rape are never charged. Of course, they are grossly misguided and these cases are often salaciously reported on in the media, enforcing rape myths and distracting public readership from the real issue. Rapists are rarely prosecuted. The headline was this ‘Woman is accused of making sexual assault up’. Although I feared the content, I was not prepared for the story I was to read. It was indeed not a report of false accusation, but from an actual rape trial and one which was connected to Operation Bullfinch. This particular case had been protected by a media blackout for reasons I have not yet researched. However, the headline was truly misleading and one of the worst cases of victim-blaming I have read. Let’s pick the chosen wording apart. For a start, the victim, the woman, is the subject (or determiner) of the headline. The headline uses the passive voice. Although this can be a common feature of a headline, it reduces her status by negating agency. Therefore, the subject, in this instance, denotes the patient. We can be ever so slightly relieved that she is not denoted as the agent in this construct. However, the chosen verb ‘accused’ overwhelming suggests that she is the one on trial for ‘making sexual assault up’. This is utterly misleading and compounds rape myths of old. I, personally, cannot escape from the headline’s connotations to the film ‘The Accused’ which depicts the court process a victim of assault has to endure if justice is to be served. Although there are clearly significant issues with court procedures and victim’s experience, it is not for the media to lazily throw these ideas back into public consideration. What infuriates even more is that the article goes on to state that one of the men accused had admitted sexually assaulting the victim. This important detail is relegated as a side note trailing toward the end of the report. Why is this not the headline? Surely, this is the lead news and not the misinforming sentence the editor chose which was a quote from the defence barrister and follows the usual patter expected of a professional when defending their client. Rape is, after the all, the only crime where you can use the defence that the complainant is lying. The jury did not buy the lawyer’s claim that the victim was lying and all actually accused (one of rape; the other of perverting the course of justice) were convicted. When challenged about their choice of headline, the Oxford Mail were unwilling to admit any wrong doing and stated they were legally required to provide coverage of the whole trial. This is a disgraceful attitude. Their refusal to see how their use of language could have been interpreted and suggested victim blaming denies their understanding of the job they do and the responsibility they have.  As we have seen with police inaction to the local girl’s suffering, the media also have authority and they also let victims down.

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