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Who Is The Real Enemy The Rapist Or The Media?

An Opinion Piece
Dayna Berghan
National Women's Rights Officer
New Zealand University Students Association

In the last few weeks in Wellington there have been eleven attacks on women. Women are being attacked and raped in Wellington. This issue is of course causing concern in Wellington, there was an editorial in Salient on the same vein as I am taking dated 28th May, I have used some of their points, as they are relevant and accurate.

"Women are raped all the time, usually by people they know" (Salient). What is happening in Wellington at the moment is that women have been sexually assaulted or raped in recent weeks by people that they didn't know. The statistics that I have access to are provided by the National Office of Rape Crisis and Related Groups of Aotearoa and released in April 1997. 90% of those that contacted Rape Crisis to report abuse were female. Of those that contacted Rape Crisis 70% identified as NZ Pakeha/European and just under 30% were Maori. Survivor's own homes were the most commonly reported location of abuse (70%), the offenders homes (29.4%), followed by public places, such as car parks or beaches (8.7%). The vast majority of survivors (92.6%) knew the offender(s) when the rape or sexual abuse began.

Two thirds of sexual assaults and rape survivors (67.7%) do not report the rape or sexual abuse to the police. The longer the time elapsed since the abuse, the smaller the proportion reported. Reporting on sexual assaults and rapes by the media must have impact on the survivor's willingness to report abuse. The media have a job to do; they have a responsibility to report that the crime has occurred. The media also have a responsibility to make sure that the reporting doesn't turn into the sort of scare-mongering that will make women scared to be by themselves on the streets and in their homes. The Dominion (Daily Newspaper in New Zealand) will be my study of Jeckl and Hyde tactics in reporting sex crimes in Wellington. On the 28th May 2001, the Dominion published an article called "Don't let rapists rule town, say police". CIB chief Detective Senior Sergeant Stephen Vaughan statements are recorded. It opens 'Rapists should be scared to walk Wellington streets, not women.' Sounds good so far.

The report continues 'They should be the ones that fear coming into town [rapists], because we are aware of them. They are a minuscule percentage of our city and they will not be tolerated'. Continues to be fine until Vaughan warns 'When you get into the car you put your seatbelt on, not because you're going to have a crash but just in case. I am advocating the same approach to walking in the city'. Here's where I have a problem.

That statement speaks to me as a woman that I am not capable of walking the streets of Wellington. That statement tells me that I need protection, a seatbelt if you will. To me that negates all the positive things said in the previous statements.

However this reporting was not as bad as the article on the 23rd April also from the Dominion. 'Expert: several motives in rape' where Victoria University academic Dr Devon Polaschek is reported. Polaschek, a lecturer in psychology, says that the rapes in Wellington seem opportunistic and to have been "primarily committed for sexual gratification" (Salient).

Granted sex is involved in rape - however that is not all that rape is about, it is about power. Rape is completely controlled by the rapist, the Wellington Independent Rape Crisis and other Rape Crisis centres around the country have been saying this for years.

Polascheck continues that, 'No unnecessary physical violence had been used in any of the attacks in the past three moths, nor was there any sexual deviancy displayed'. "You really need to consider what sort of questions these statements raise. What would 'unnecessary violence' be?" Salient)

Is the same question asked of someone who has been mugged? And isn't rape itself a sexual deviancy? "Would it be more deviant if it was a homosexual rape?" (Salient). Perhaps if a fetish of some kind was utilised or the victim was bound and gagged, would it then be deviant?

This article continues to debase women. 'It looks like the rapists were making use of an available opportunity to have sex for free. They often think that what they are doing is not terribly wrong, especially if the woman is sexually active anyway.' This is probably the most convincing argument to show that women in this society that we take for granted are still oppressed (Salient) - which we live in a rape culture. Sex for free is devaluing women as sexual objects to be brought and sold. And by validating rape if the woman is sexually active is abhorrent.

I am not eliminating the possibility that these two interviewees could have been misreported. However I am yet to see articles where local rape crisis is interviewed, or the survivors themselves. I am yet to see other groups such as the local Women's Centres, Y.W.C.A and community anti-violence initiatives interviewed.

These articles with their inherent male as protectors and women as sexually active therefore the rape is 'not terribly wrong' in the rapists mind all fuel panic and scare tactics towards the public; women in particular. The media have a job to do, which is reporting. They do not have the job of creating news and panic, which these two articles prove that is what they are doing.

Many Students Associations run the Thursdays in Black campaign. The campaign started from the recognition of the rape in war of women. The campaign now focuses on raising awareness of rape and violence in our communities and tries to promote a zero tolerance of abuse - kinda like "think global act local".

One of the ways that Thursdays in Black achieves this is by raising $5 from every tee-shirt sold to go to community groups that help survivors of rape and violence. If you are in the Wellington Region don't let the media scare you stupid. Use your voice, use your car keys, use your fists, and use your feet. The tactics employed by the media serves only to disempower them by making them think that they can't take care of themselves. If you want information on self-defence contact your local YWCA or Women's Centres. Many of the courses available are either free or for little cost. It is not the rapist that women fear it is the myth that grows and protects him.


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