SICK SAD WORLD

Reporting on rape

Posted in Oh hell no by Nancy on June 3, 2010

I was flabbergasted to read this rape story on the front page of the Rotorua Daily Post, with a huge 4-deck headline proclaiming:

CROSS-DRESSER FORCED HIMSELF ON WOMAN, COURT HEARS.

I am horrified by the way this story has been reported. Read it here.

The RDP seems to want me to think that the truly horrific and scandalous part of this rape story is the fact that the attacker liked to wear women’s clothes/had a sexual preference for bondage.

I would argue that the horrific part of this story is the rape, no matter what the sexual preferences of the attacker.

The intro read:

A Rotorua man with a fetish for dressing up in women’s clothing and being tied up and locked in a wardrobe is on trial for allegedly raping a woman who regularly tied him up.

As in the headline, the first facts we read are “fetish for dressing up in women’s clothing and being tied up and locked in a wardrobe”. The word “raping” only appears near the end of the sentence, which is again book-ended with “regularly tied him up”. From this we already see that the news angle is not the rape, but the attacker’s sexual inclinations.

After the cursory stating of name/location/age/charge/plea/court (Gordon Murray White, Rotorua, 42, rape, not guilty, Rotorua District Court) the first we read about the case is as follows:

In openings yesterday Crown Prosecutor Chris Macklin told the jury Waite got pleasure out of cross-dressing and being tied up with stockings.

Then we hear an explanation about how the victim lived alone before we read:

In the weeks before the alleged rape, Waite had revealed his fetish to the woman, visiting with a plastic bag full of women’s clothing he would dress in and then get her to tie him up and lock him in a wardrobe.

“It was a bit of a game … He would give her money to let him out,” Mr Macklin said.

Then we read about the events leading up to the rape, in which Waite hid in her wardrobe and jumped out wearing “just a woman’s g-string”. We then read:

“He forced her on to the bed and said to her if she has sex with him he will pay for her divorce,” he said.

The woman said no but he didn’t listen.

“The key issue for you today is one of consent,” he told the jury.

Crown Prosecutor Macklin is absolutely on point. The key issue is of consent. Not what sex games the attacker liked to play. The voyeuristic way the RDP has reported this would have us believe that this story is about “cross-dressing” rather than the actual crime of rape. Details of Waite’s sexual  inclinations are given with morbid glee and the key facts of the actual rape are nestled somewhere between the details of the sex play and the “quirkiness” of the situation.

The way this story was presented not only suggests that the real issue is the sexual deviance of the attacker, it implies that men  who get kicks out of dressing up in women’s clothing are more deviant than rapists. This is damaging for two reasons. (1) It perpetuates a misguided notion that people who choose to engage in consensual “kink” or bondage are “bad” and “deviant”. (2) It trivialises rape and ranks its worthiness as news below the “juicy details” of “deviant” bedroom activities.

It is clear, as “cross-dresser” is the first word you read in the headline, that this story only made it as the front-page lead because of the “interesting” characteristics of the attacker. If the rape had occurred in a “normal” way it would have been relegated elsewhere in the newspaper (or perhaps accompanied by some police spokesperson saying women should learn to look after themselves).

It’s sad that a horrifying crime such as rape only gets special coverage if it’s a “novelty” kind of rape. Because, as we so often sadly observe in our newspapers, rape alone is not a crime worthy of the front page. A man who likes to wear women’s clothes, however, is.

Waite has since been convicted of rape and has one relevant historical conviction of exposing himself to young girls. He deserves to be named, shamed and punished for his sick, abusive and criminal behaviour. However, the trivial details of his fetishes are not relevant and merely distract us from his true crime of rape. The The RDP has since published statements from him.  And the victim? Your guess is as good as mine.

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