Stereotypical media representations of rape are damaging conviction rates when cases come to court, according to a Home Office funded study.
“The report, entitled Just Representations? Press Reporting and the Reality of Rape, concluded that highly selective and sensational reporting of rape cases has distorted public perceptions to such an extent that juries can no longer recognise the more typical rape when they are presented with it in during a trial.
The study identifies a press “construct” about rape – namely that it is an outdoor crime, suffered by an unimpeachable woman at the hands of a monstrous deviant – a scenario that actually contradicts all research and crime statistics, distorting public perceptions and feeding into the criminal justice system.The widespread belief among the public is that women are most at risk of being raped when walking alone in dark or remote areas. Although instantly recognisable, the scenario bears little resemblance to the reality of most rapes.
More than 80 per cent of rapes in the UK are perpetrated by men known to their victim, and only 13 per cent happen in public places. The widespread misconception is largely generated by the media, according to the report.
Statistics revealed in the report – which surveyed a random selection of articles about rape and sexual assault over a 12-month period – show that vastly disproportionate press coverage was given to false rape allegations made by women, attacks by foreigners, and attacks on young girls.
Currently only 5.7 per cent of rapes reported in the UK lead to a criminal conviction, a figure which has fallen from 33 per cent in 1977.
The report criticises the way in which rape is usually written about on a case-by-case basis, rather than discussed as a wider social issue, in contrast to gun and knife crime, which are typically linked to poverty or gang culture. An important recommendation of the study is the development of guidelines on the reporting of sexual violence, to be enforced by both individual newspapers and the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).
A spokesperson from the PCC said: “This new report has identified that the press heavily reports unusual incidents of sexual violence. However, this is what the media do – they report on things that are unusual.””
So if it isn’t unusual, it isn’t news? Since when did the National Inquirer become a model for acceptable journalism???