On Trump, Ched Evans and the media narrative on sexual violence

CW: Rape, sexual violence

Left: Donald Trump kisses a “Women for Trump” sign during a campaign rally, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016, in Lakeland, Fla. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP). Right: Ched Evans and fiancée Natasha Massey (Photo: Getty)

In the same week when Donald Trump took his offence and misogyny to brand new levels of WTAF and caused global outrage, we saw Ched Evans cleared of rape.

Evans claims that he had consensual sex with the woman but that he did not rape her, despite the fact that she was heavily intoxicated and arguably not able to consent. But in court, Evans stated that he “did not speak to the woman before, during or after sex” and that he “left via a fire exit”.

How on earth do you get full consent from someone when you don’t speak a single word to them?!

This is what pussy-grabbing looks like, people.

Evans, quite literally, walked into a hotel room, saw a woman, and grabbed her pussy, without asking. That is rape. And it’s rape culture which allowed it to happen.

To make matters worse, this week we were also reminded of the fact that there are in fact quite a lot of men who think it’s ok to talk about women in the way that Trump did, the old “locker room talk”. They don’t think that there is any harm in it, and certainly don’t think that talking about women in a degrading way and treating them in a degrading way are in any way related. In tv and radio studios across the globe, panelists were invited to debate about whether it is in fact acceptable, or not — to the frustration of many.

The issue is this: the media is complicit in perpetuating rape culture and the coverage in the last week is just another example of that.

Leaving Trump aside for one moment, let’s take a look at how Evans’ re-trial got covered.

Starting with the Guardian, we’ve got a reasonably balanced, reporting-the-news piece:

In The Guardian version we learn that Evans was acquitted but we also immediately find out that the decision to allow evidence from the survivor’s past life was highly controversial. The article elaborates on this for the first few paragraphs of the article, deciding to focus on the significance of this trial, and the use of evidence which shouldn’t normally be permitted, and how that might impact other victims coming forward.

This case has been and is highly controversial, not least once we found out that Evans’ supporters raised thousands and even offered a £50,000 reward to anyone bringing forward new evidence. This article reflects the controversy and for balance, includes voices who disagree with the outcome and why.

By contrast, take a look at what the Daily Mail wrote:

In this version of the story, we learn about the heroic efforts of the two men hired by Evans who were able to find some juicy details to smear and blame the victim. Thank god for those men, otherwise poor Ched would still be behind bars.

The Mail article goes on to explain how these additional witnesses were found and details what they said. While the article briefly acknowledges that such witnesses aren’t normally used, it immediately justifies the decision to go ahead with it.

The Mirror’s version is similar:

There is only one victim in these stories and it’s Evans.

And there are countless other examples of this sort of reporting. What these articles do is strengthen the belief that Evans’ behaviour was normal, and certainly not illegal. Leaving aside the issue of consent for a moment, Evans is a man who did not deem it necessary to speak a single word to the woman he was “having sex with”, while his mates filmed the whole thing. What a respectful and lovely human being he is.

The media narrative — especially that of the tabloid media — on sexual assault is deeply problematic. Men are either innocent heroes, as in the Evans case. Or they are “evil, twisted sex monsters” or “beasts”. This latter language is generally used in cases where the perpetrator is not well known, especially if he is foreign or non-white. And more so in cases where the victim is underage (as in the recent horrific case of a girl who was raped on her way to school).

But in a world where in 90% of rape or sexual assault cases the perpetrator is known to the victim, why does the media insist on perpetuating the stranger danger myth, while normalizing the behaviour of the Trumps and Evans’ of the world? The distinction here is crucial: only “beasts” and “monsters” are truly capable of rape, while the normal men in our lives are surely not.

The long-term danger of this narrative is that women will be less likely to come forward to report cases where the perpetrator is known to them, a public figure or someone in a position of power because of the scrutiny and abuse they will get as a result of it. And meanwhile, the “locker room” men can continue to subject women to their disgusting behaviour with impunity.

In 2013 I conducted academic research into the subject of the media’s portrayal of sexual violence. A flavour of this sort of analysis can be found in this Object report — or contact me for further reading.

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