Rape in the News: better, but not there yet

Content note for rape and sexual assault.

So Brisbane doesn’t seen to be a very nice place if you’re a woman at the moment. Yesterday, my housemate showed me a QLD Police announcement that a man had been arrested for rape in a park near Roma St. My heart went out to the female victim (who could well have been myself or someone I know), but I couldn’t help being a little bit excited about the way that the report was written. Check it out:

Police have charged a 37-year-old man with rape following an incident in a Brisbane City park last night.

It will be alleged the incident occurred around 9.30pm in Gallipoli Park.

Police arrested a man at the scene.

A 31-year-old woman was transported to the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital for treatment.

A 37-year-old Mount Gravatt East man was charged with four counts of rape and is due to appear in the Brisbane Magistrates Court today.

Notice anything? For the first time I’ve seen, the perpetrator is actually the focus of the story. He’s the one who raped a woman and was arrested for it. The woman wasn’t raped or assaulted my some mysterious, unnamed force. The rape did not just somehow happen. There are no descriptions of what the woman was wearing, or that she was drinking. There is no warning for women to not go out alone at night ‘for their own safety.’

Congrats to the QLD Police for making the crime the center of the story, for once. (I’ll save my cookies, though.) But then I started wondering how this same event had been broadcast by other news sources. So I hit google and took a look. And surprise, surprise: looks like journalists still can’t get it quite right.

ABC News reports the story with the headline ‘Woman allegedly raped in Brisbane park near Roma St station’ – even though the URL for the story is phrased ‘man charged with raping woman.’ (Huh?) At least the last two sentence of the story say that a man was arrested at the scene and charged with four counts of rape.

News.com’s headline reads the same: ‘Woman allegedly raped at Gallipoli Park near Roma St train station.’ The title of the search result, confusingly, was ‘Woman “raped” in city park,’ with the word rape in nice scare quotes, as if the perpetrator hadn’t been caught at the scene and on CCTV by the police and there were serious doubts that a rape had actually occurred. (The repeated use of the word ‘allegedly’ is also frustrating in these stories.) The headline makes even less sense when it turns out that the story itself is very strongly focused on the perpetrator and his crime.

The Brisbane Times and the Sydney Morning Herald ran the same story, and actually got the headline right: ‘Man charged with rape in Roma St precinct.’ I’ll clap later. However, the first line of the story strikes me as a bit bizarre:

Police have charged a 37-year-old man with rape following another safety incident close to Roma Street Railway Station.

A safety incident? Really? I wonder if it would still have been described as a safety incident if someone had been stabbed or attacked without being raped. There is also this:

Police arrested a Mount Gravatt East man at the scene and it is believed the 31-year-old victim was familiar with the man accused.

“We’re not sure how well they were known to each other, but it wasn’t a case of someone sneaking up on the other,” a police spokesperson said.

I have mixed feelings about this being included in the story. On one hand, it could be read as a ‘oh, if she knew who raped her then maybe it wasn’t rape and it was actually consensual’ line. (Hint: that never happens.) On the other, it is somewhat good to see the police debunking the myth that rape is only committed by strangers.

What strikes me particularly is the inconsistency in standards in these stories. Some get their headlines right, but mess up other bits, and vice versa. It still looks like no-one can get it completely right. Seriously, journalists, it’s not that hard to just keep the focus on the crime and be consistent about it.

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4 thoughts on “Rape in the News: better, but not there yet

  1. The use of allegedly is because the media has to make sure it doesn’t imply the perpetrator has committed the crime until a court has deemed it so. If they didn’t have the perpetrator they would probably have dropped it.

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