Rape in the Media

I’m talking about sexual assault and the coverage of rape in the media.  Both the description of rape and the victim-blaming in the reporting are likely to be anger-inducing and/or triggering for some readers.

Shadesong pointed out two very different news stories about CBS reporter Lara Logan, who was separated from her crew and repeatedly raped during the protests in Egypt. The difference between the CBS News report and the LA Weekly report is obvious from the images chosen for each story.

For CBS, Logan was one of their own.  Not a sexual object but a human being, a colleague.  They present the facts in a concise article.  Logan was reporting on the celebration in Tahrir Square.  She was separated from her crew.  She was raped and beaten before being rescued by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers.  The story concludes with, “There will be no further comment from CBS News and correspondent Logan and her family respectfully request privacy at this time.”

Contrast this with Simone Wilson’s “report” in LA Weekly. “South African TV journalist Lara Logan, known for her shocking good looks and ballsy knack for pushing her way to the heart of the action, was brutally and repeatedly raped…”

Wilson emphasises Logan’s appearance, calling her “the gutsy stunner” or referring to “her Hollywood good looks,” while at the same time sensationalizing/sexualizing the rape with phrasing like, “…Egyptian protesters apparently consummated their newfound independence by sexually assaulting the blonde reporter.”  (Emphasis added.)

Of course, it was really Logan’s fault, because she should have known better, right?  Wilson brings up an Esquire interview in which Logan was called “insane” for wanting to return to Egypt.  (Um … she’s a reporter.  This is her job.  Would a male reporter be similarly criticized for choosing to report in Egypt?)

No report of rape would be complete without an attack on the victim’s sex life.  The longest quote in Wilson’s article is reserved, not for anything to do with rape, but for an excerpt from a New York Post article from 2008 about Logan’s sexual history in which she’s called a “sultry” “home-wrecker,” a lurid piece which sounds more like the setup for an erotic romance than actual reporting.

The pathetic thing is how normal this is.  This is how rapes are reported in this country.  Sensationalized and sexualized, deliberately playing into readers’ rape fantasies.  (Why else would Wilson include the following quote from Mofo Politics: “OMG if I were her captors and there were no sanctions for doing so? I would totally rape her.”)

This is the story we tell, again and again — that rape is about sexually attractive women getting what they deserve, for being sluts or for being unavailable or for just being where women don’t belong.  This is how we treat survivors of rape, blaming them and sexualizing/fetishizing what they’ve been through.  This is how we encourage rapists, fantasizing and justifying the act of rape.

The next time someone asks what “rape culture” means, tell them to go read LA Weekly.


ETA: For those wondering if there’s anything they can do, Laura Anne Gilman writes:

I just wrote a rather scathing letter directly to the reporter, via the newspaper’s website.

“…Well played. I’m sure you’ll get a Pulitizer for that. Or maybe a Penthouse award. It’s clear which one you were going for…”

I encourage others to do the same. And cc the publisher of the newspaper while you’re at it.