Friday, 18 March 2011

On the Daily Mail and rape

For a paper famed for its pearl-clutching prudery about sex, the Daily Mail often seems to get surprisingly defensive about the wayward wang deployment of men accused of rapes and sexual assault. It's rare that more than a couple of weeks go by without the paper running a story about a woman convicted of lying about a rape, as if to create a narrative whereby women routinely use sex and subsequent lies about it as a form of manipulation.

If you want to know how far the Mail's attempts to muddy the waters surrounding rape cases will go, then look no further than today's Six footballers jailed over gang rape of 12-year-old girls in midnight park orgy. Here, the Mail comes across as largely sympathetic to the six men involved, despite them being a) footballers, b) accused of raping two twelve-year-olds, and c) largely of ethnicities permanently forbidden from entering Midsomer.

Straight off the bat, in the first line, words like 'rape' and sexual assault are replaced by "midnight sex orgy". By the fourth paragraph we're told that the poor lads "were encouraged by the schoolgirl 'Lolitas'" who apparently ensnared them with text messages. We're informed that one of the two girls, the "most active" (shouldn't that be "more active"? - Pedantry Ed.), "called the defendants over one-by-one to have full sex or perform sex acts on them", whereas;
The other girl was more reluctant and was raped by just one player.
Ah, just the one rape there, then. Good job she looked reluctant, and therefore only got raped rather than gang-raped.

The entire tone of the article continues in this manner. The girls, or one of them at least, were up for it, and so it was unfortunate that these six men took it in turns with her, apparently believing she was 16 or over. We're then told the men all made the exact same "mistake", and informed;
They were said to have been shocked and disgusted to learn the true ages of the girls, with one stating: 'I've got a little sister about that age.'
The most worrying part of all this is that the Mail doesn't seem to agree with or believe in the established legal position that 12-year-olds cannot legally consent. Yes, if the story is to be believed, this wasn't a violent, physically coercive stranger rape. However, even given that, what we have here is a group of 18-21 year old men taking sexual advantage of two children too young to legally consent to sex. Even the Mail's rather sympathetic-to-the-convicted retelling of the story admits that one of the girls was 'reluctant'. But all this is rather glossed over in favour of what seems like a narrative which deflects blame from the men involved and onto the slutty, cock-hungry 12-year-old girls who ruthlessly tempted them to gang-fuck them in a park without first checking if they were 16. It's difficult to imagine a 21-year-old not being able to tell that the girl he's about to have sex with is under 13, but the Mail seems to buy it unreservedly. This isn't a 16-year-old having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend that he's in the same class with, the gap is much more distinct than that. This is important.

The girl-blaming tone continues into the comments section:
They did a reprehensible thing but I cant help having sympathy for them. The 12 year old girl is clearly a danger to herself and should be removed from her parents no question.
Another commenter says;
Ummmm am i the only one who took any notice of the parts where this girl had lied - saying she was 16 - and had willingly called them over one by one!!!
And yet another;
It wasnt rape, girls nowadays look much older than they actually are, if these girls state they 16, one even having a facebook page with a fake age, then im sorry it is their fault. Guys of that age are always persistent when it comes to sex, its hardly a girl being pinned down and violated...
And one more for good measure;
abslutely that's not rape. the girls were cooperative
It's depressing to see the lack of seriousness with which those below the line are treating the story, but on this occasion they're not much different to DAILY MAIL REPORTER'S rather one-sided account.

Still, at least these men didn't buy the girls some penis-shaped sweets, that would have been a real fucking scandal.

38 comments:

  1. This is just horrible isn't it. The Mail is famous for its victim blaming stance but this has taken it to new levels - blaming children.
    Not that it is right to blame women but you know what i mean.

    The language of the piece is just so suggestive of victim blaming, calling it an 'orgy', saying the girls 'sneaked' out of the party, 'reluctance' and, of course, 'Lolita' (who, for the record, was a raped in the book).

    No wonder the comments blame the girls and worry and pity the men who's lives are 'ruined' when the Mail prints endless articles victim blaming and denying the seriousness of rape and sexual assault (see their article on CNN journalist in Egypt who was assaulted).

    I've written about this too, sorry to be such a links troll (!) but you can read it here http://sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.com/2011/03/daily-mail-fail.html

    I will link to your piece on mine!

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  2. Hehe, Sian, you are awesome and are welcome to link-troll here any time you want :-)

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  3. aww thanks. have linked to this post in the comments section of my post too. And you are awesome also - v love your blog!

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  4. 'The most worrying part of all this is that the Mail doesn't seem to agree with or believe in the established legal position that 12-year-olds cannot legally consent.'

    I don't agree with this established legal position either. I think having a position whereby the age of consent represents a line underneath which nobody can 'consent' is ridiculous.

    I think The Mail article sounds terrible. But there is no reason why we can't oppose the concept of 'statutory rape' whilst also drawing attention to bad journalism.

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  5. Elly

    Statutory rape laws are a second best solution to a serious problem, since the first best solution of "having magical mind reading powers" is so far unavailable. While they can be overused and abused, I do not think this is one of those cases. This is not two fourteen year olds being prosecuted for statutory-raping each other. This is not a 16 year old boy being labelled a "sex offender" because he went down on his girlfriend who was 3 months shy of her 16th.

    Adulthood comes with responsibilities. Maybe not every young male understands what those responsibilities are, maybe there was peer pressure here, maybe the girl in question was "acting grown up" and maybe she was sexually aware enough to be cognizant of all her decisions. But, just as we have laws about shagging people who are passed out on the sofa at a party, your assumption that s/he would be totes OK with it were they awake and of sound mind is not actually a good enough reason for you to engage in sexual intercourse. You can, actually, hold off.

    Yes, perhaps that *totally sucks* if you're a sexually mature 12 year old who really wants to get gang-banged by 6 men in a park. Hell, I don't deny that such a thing is possible. But from what we know it's much *more* frequent that young people do *not* consent, or do *not* consider the full implications of their actions, and feel scared and pressured by the adults involved who should know better.

    It's not reasonable to put the onus of responsibility on one 12 year old girl rather than the 6 grown men involved. Taking part in a gang bang is not one of your fundamental human rights.

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  6. I am not condoning the actions of those men and you know it mcduff.

    I am saying I believe age of consent laws are not helpful in the way we approach sexual development and the way we police sexuality with regards to young people.

    But thanks for the lecture.

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  7. @Elly

    They were twelve. Twelve years old. Just in case you didn't get it the first few times, I will say it again: THEY WERE TWELVE.

    Now, whether or not you agree that 16 is an appropriate arbitrary cut off point for the legality of sexual intercourse is a moot point. The law allows discretion between the ages of 14 - 16, but has deemed that a person aged 13 or under can NOT consent to sexual intercourse. No ifs, no buts, they can NOT. If an adult has sex with a 12 year old, IT IS RAPE.

    If you're seriously trying to argue that twelve year olds can consent to having sexual intercourse with multiple partners in the same night, you need to take a long hard look at yourself. Sometimes arguing just for the sake of it (as you do INCESSANTLY) can make you look like a complete arsehole. Not that you need much help with that.

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  8. They were 12. Now, I'm not denying that 12 year olds have a sexuality, but when you are 12 you are a child who can't always articulate what you want, what you feel, and as we all know from being 12, it is easy to feel pressured and coerced into a situation you are not comfortable with. Man, it can be hard enough doing that when you're a grown up! But as far as I'm concerned, that's why we have statutory rape laws, to protect children from being hurt, emotionally and physically. These men were men. They weren't children. They have to take responsibility for what they did. I don't believe a 12 year old could have looked that old! Why, when she was 'reluctant' didn't they stop, or ask how old they were?
    There are of course issues with statutory rape laws, as instances described by mcduff. But would it be better if grown men coerced children into sex and we did nothing about it? I don't think so.
    Coventry rape crisis tweeted today that they have 12 year old girls come in who have been coerced into sex saying its the way to be loved by their boyfriend. they have what tolman calls 'silent bodies' not feeling desire or consenting, but feeling sex is something they must engage in to get "love". Ariel levy writes about this. This is why it is so important to educate about active and informed consent, so that girls aren't coerced into sex and boys grow up respecting women's bodily autonomy. And vice versa of course!

    But really, this isn't about statutory rape, but about how the daily mail blames women for rape, and has now started blaming children. This has to stop.

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  9. I don't argue for the sake of it Natalie I believe everything I say. But as you don't believe I mean anything I say I may as well just shut up like a good girl and let you get on with being correct about everything.

    Incidentally I recommend Foucault's History of Sexuality and his various interviews/essays about childhood and sexuality. And those lovely moralistic adults who police it.

    Best wishes

    an asshole

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  11. (repost to remove a "not" that changed the meaning of a paragraph completely)

    Elly

    There are issues with Statutory Rape law and juvenille sexuality. I don't think they're especially relevant to this case, this article, or the issues raised in this blogpost.

    It's not just a case of "bad journalism", it's a particular editorial policy — and I believe that it pretty much is editorial policy at the Mail even if you'll never see it written down anywhere — regarding the way it reports rape. Issues with "sometimes it's more complex than the pure delicate woman being brutalised by the horrible man" aside, it is also probably more complicated than "she was asking for it." This is reinforced in cases such as this, where even "six men convicted for gang raping 12 year old girl" gets the ontheotherhandery and equivocation about whether it might not be the case that she was actually a 12 year old slut who totally asked for it. I'm flexible on lots of things, but in this case I don't think there are any *possible* sufficiently extenuating circumstances.

    It's not about whether you condone the actions of the men in question. It's about whether you condone the actions of the Mail in its approach to equivocating between two vastly unequal parties.

    SR laws might be unhelpful. But, on the other hand, in this case, with these actions which you, as you say, do not condone, what alternative would you suggest? If we stopped considering the girl in question a minor for the sake of legal consent, would the resulting change in outcome be better for everyone?

    These are serious questions. If we're doing it wrong, what do you suggest as the alternative?

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  12. Mcduff, I totally agree. This is a pattern in the mail of the "good" victim, and the "bad" victim, the woman who drinks, or wears a short skirt, or who spoke to the attacker and is therefore to blame. The mail report rape in this way all the time. The CNN journalist who was sexually assaulted in Egypt got treated to an article about her low cut top, implying the 'its bad but on the other hand...' now they are reporting to imply that children are to blame. Whatever the issues around Sr law, this is a really unpleasant way to report gang rape!

    And yes, as you say, what is the other choice? Because I can't see another solution to protect children from sexual exploitation, rape, unless we draw a line and say at this age, you are too young to meaningfully consent.

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  13. "The law allows discretion between the ages of 14 - 16, but has deemed that a person aged 13 or under can NOT consent to sexual intercourse. No ifs, no buts, they can NOT. If an adult has sex with a 12 year old, IT IS RAPE."

    Of course they can consent. Linguistically speaking, anyone can move their mouths into a yes or their heads into a nod and mean it. It's just from a legal standpoint, the consent doesn't count. It's not simply a matter of whether both parties want to, it's a matter of autonomy, and when we give a child autonomy over what. But going solely off legal arguments to decide if we agree with a legal position is hopelessly circular.

    Morally speaking, it's weird territory. Unlike standard rape, where the rapist ignores consent and fucks away anyway, statutory rape is a failure to disregard the victim's consent. Rejection is a kick in the teeth. As well as turning down a romp with an alluring minor, you're having to tell an emotionally fragile teenager that however willing if not desperate they are, they're not old enough to make that decision. That however long they've thought about it and however many times they've said they want it, actually, you the grown-up know better, and they don't.

    We quite rightly deny under-sixteens that kind of autonomy when we condescendingly ban them from paid employment or force them to learn maths, so enforcing celibacy is not a massive leap. And it's definitely the most straightforward way to protect children from sexual exploitation. I agree we should err on the side of that rather than anything else (what's the point of rape laws anyway, if not that the right to have sex is trumped by the right to refuse it?). But since it potentially involves vetoing a willing party's consent, this is nowhere near the same as standard rape and it's very simplistic to look at it that way.

    Back to the article itself, it's interesting how the Mail's victim-blaming slots neatly in with its paedopanic. SCANDAL AS PRE-TEEN GIRLS SEXUALISED becomes PRE-TEEN GIRLS SEXUAL which becomes PRE-TEEN GIRLS IMMORAL and finally PRE-TEEN GIRLS ASKING FOR IT. The fact that evil Primark is brainwashing kids into wearing thongs doesn't exonerate the dastardly kids from wearing them to tempt vulnerable, weak-willed rapists. Yech.

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  14. Alex wrote:
    'We quite rightly deny under-sixteens that kind of autonomy when we condescendingly ban them from paid employment or force them to learn maths, so enforcing celibacy is not a massive leap. And it's definitely the most straightforward way to protect children from sexual exploitation'

    I see your point Alex. But are we protecting children from sexual exploitation here? This is an article about media coverage of a 'gang rape' of two girls. This suggests the law has not protected them from sexual exploitation. making things illegal does not make them not happen. See also Prostitution, drugs, guncrime.

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  15. "As well as turning down a romp with an alluring minor, you're having to tell an emotionally fragile teenager that however willing if not desperate they are, they're not old enough to make that decision. That however long they've thought about it and however many times they've said they want it, actually, you the grown-up know better, and they don't."

    It's actually closer to "you're not old enough for me to be able to make that decision." While based on the justification that we — rightly — view any decision by a 12 year old to consent to sex with an adult as suspicious, the onus is on the behaviour of the adult to not have sex with that 12 year old.

    The thing is, consent is not just the linguistic act of saying yes. There are many factors that can turn a "yes" into an invalid form of consent, including coercion, intoxication, misinformation, or simple lack of knowledge. The further down the age range you go, "however long they've thought about it" gets much shorter and the mental tools they've used to think about it get more crude, such that capacity to say yes becomes significantly non-equivalent to capacity to consent as we properly define it. At the other end of the scale, the more "extreme" the sex act, the less likely it is that the cruder tools of young people's minds have been able to comprehend them sufficiently in order to say yes to them.

    I can see how a 12 year old can meaningfully consent to certain kinds of sexual activity. I can see how an adult can meaningfully consent to group sex in a park. I do not see any way for a 12 year old to meaningfully consent to group sex in a park.

    I also don't see how six adults can claim complete innocence of foreknowledge and coercion when there was an additional 12 year old there to the "slutty" one and she was coerced into sex despite her lack of consent. One of the reasons we deliberately disbelieve kids who might be telling the truth is that it gives us more legal grounds to disbelieve adults who are definitely lying. Adults have more capacity to not just coerce during but also after the fact, which is an extension of the original abuse and general removal of consent.

    Look at it this way. If a child who had bruises from being punched said "It was a good thing I was hit, I was a bad boy and I deserved it" would that *count*? Would it be patronising or condescending to say "actually, no, regardless of the depth of your belief, you cannot consent to being punched in the face and we will not allow that"? Does it matter that someone can make an argument that adults can, in various situations, consent to being punched in the face?

    The existence of a system in which young people have faced historical injustices as a class does not mean that every bit of law affecting our treatment of minors will inevitably go. It should be scrutinised, sure, but the concept of a "too young to consent" is solid, even if we can justifiably have conversations about figuring out precisely when that is and how fuzzy and grey the boundaries are.

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  16. This suggests the law has not protected them from sexual exploitation. making things illegal does not make them not happen. See also Prostitution, drugs, guncrime.

    Oh whoa whoa whoa whoa What The Actual Fuckery is this?

    Child abuse is *nothing like* prostitution or drug use, for aforementioned reasons of consent. Laws against theft don't prevent 100% of shoplifting, do we therefore say the laws "don't work"?

    The huge argument around legalising things like drugs and prostitution is based not just around adult consent but also around harm minimisation. Do you have any kind of theoretical mechanism *at all* by which the removal of statutory rape laws would result in *less* harm to minors?

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  17. Yes I do McDuff. My theoretical mechanism is to do with the theories i have come to respect about sexuality, e.g. from my readings of Freud and Foucault, both of whom by the way have challenged the criminalisation of sexual activity, either with children or adults.

    You don't have to get all 'sensationalist' like the Daily Mail does when talking about this subject. I understand it is sensitive.
    But maybe if people did more reading of great writers on sexuality and less reading of The Daily Mail we might be able to have a more intelligent debate.

    Best wishes.

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  18. Wait wait, now I am sensationalist because I disagree with Sigmund Freud about something? Or, what?

    "I totes have more sex psychology books than you" is not exactly making an argument as much as refusing to make one because I'm just not smart enough to understand the pearls you'd drop into this here hog trough. People might know about Freud AND happen to disagree with his opinions OR your opinions on what his opinions mean AND this might not be proof that they are big dumb idiot heads.

    Was there a part of this thread where you actually thought you might bring some enlightenment to us unwashed masses, or did you pretty much just come in here to wave your PhD/Cock around and prove to everyone that you are so too smarter these dumbo feminists who probably *haven't even read Foucault*, like some kind of *fucking intellectual lepers*?

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  19. McDuff- I know you love to argue with me. You really love it.

    I don't enjoy arguing with you quite so much. You have a tone of voice I find very grating and aggressive. I will go back to my books. Take good care.

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  20. I've read Freud and foucault. I still think that a 12 year old can't meaningfully consent to sex with 5 adult men. And that those men should have not had sex with a 12 year old girl. It is clear that the girl was coerced. If we didn't have statutory rape laws, then those men would continue to think it is ok to put pressure on and coerce a child into having sex with them. As mcduff days, this is about meaningful consent.

    I think its so sad that girls are growing up believing that sex isn't something you do because you want to, but something you do because you are supposed to, or are coerced into. As per the quote I mentioned earlier. It's why I say we have to start teaching about meaningful consent.

    There is a position between daily mail pearl clutching 'slut shaming' and saying there should be no age of consent to protect children after all.

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  21. Sian - I did not say the girls consented to the sex in this case. It is not actually 'clear' what happened though as we are not privvy to all the information of that case.

    I am glad you have read Freud and Foucault. Though you don't seem to share their perspectives.

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  22. Grating and aggressive. I suppose it beats being all patronising when you can't find it in you to make or back up a substantive point, so I guess I'll stick with it.

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  23. I have a substantive point McDuff but I am having the conversation over at my own blog now rather than be harangued here. Feel free to harangue me there as well but at least I have a bit more control.

    Oh and I recommend Three Essays on Sexuality by Freud it is really good.

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  24. Foucault pretty much flatly disagrees with what he called the "repression hypothesis" - basically, a lof of Freud - in "The Will to Knowledge", so I'm not sure why they're both being quoted here in support of the same argument. It's also worth noting that Foucault never published "The Will to Knowledge II", because he came to be convinced that he was pretty seriously wrong about a lot of stuff there. As was Freud.

    I'm just saying, I don't see how two flawed thinkers who didn't agree with each other make a sufficient support for an argument. I'm also kind of saying don't assume that just because it's the internet people are stupider than you are, but that's a separate question.

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  25. They both had an approach to childhood and sexuality that involved not supporting the criminalisation of childhood sexuality, and the moralising by adults about it, from what I have read.

    Changing one's mind over time is not a bad thing it is a sign of development. I used to be a feminist!

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  26. I don't recall foucault saying anything one way or another about childhood sexuality. He was interested in homosexuality & systemic sexual oppression as a tool of state power.

    Freud was indeed among the first to acknowledge the innate sexual impulses of children, but again, he had nothing much to say one way or another about criminality - do you have a citation of him on e.g. child prostitution laws?

    In any case, as has been repeatedly pointed out to you above, the issue at hand is not the criminalisation of childhood sexuality. The only body putting the children on trial here is the Daily Mail, and if you've been reading you'll know that nobody here agrees with that position. It's the adult in the case who are criminals, as acknowledged by the court.

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  27. [i]I used to be a feminist![/i]

    What are you now? What stopped you believing in equal rights for women?

    Not being snarky, genuinely curious as to how one changes their mind from feminism.

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  28. The Mail seems to also b very very confused on the legal issue. The suggestion that if had taken place a week later after the "main" girl had turned 13 then no action would have been taken is simply not true. Although that creates a level of limitation it is still seen as illegal (under the age of consent) and the other girl would have still be 12 and was still "reluctant". Her actions would not have got them off the hook it would have still been rape.

    Crappy journalism start to finish.

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  29. Yes Marina Foucault was concerned with childhood sexuality and the law around sexuality full stop. I am just reading an essay /interview on the subject now in Foucault: Live.
    I will get the full citation.

    Freud mentioned how sexual interaction with children tends to take place where children and adults meet most-e.g. in schools, and was against the 'pathologising' of paedophilia as being an illness in the individual. I will find a reference to that too.

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  30. Hi Claire
    If you wish to know more about my stance on feminism and how it has changed do come and say hi on my blog

    www.quietgirlriot.wordpress.com

    I don't want to derail this discussion here.

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  31. Marina said:
    'In any case, as has been repeatedly pointed out to you above, the issue at hand is not the criminalisation of childhood sexuality. The only body putting the children on trial here is the Daily Mail, and if you've been reading you'll know that nobody here agrees with that position. It's the adult in the case who are criminals, as acknowledged by the court. '

    My view, as supported by Foucault, is that the whole society has some responsibility in terms of how we impose 'law' (and I mean that in the Foucauldian sense of the word) on sexuality, and how we express that via discourse, such as The Daily Mail and now blogs.

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  32. QRG
    "This suggests the law has not protected them from sexual exploitation. making things illegal does not make them not happen. See also Prostitution, drugs, guncrime."
    Well, obviously not otherwise we wouldn't be hearing about it. But the rapists have gone down for it. It's not a perfect prevention strategy, but you could pretty much say that for any law and any crime, and that's a general law-enforcement argument rather than a statutory rape one.

    McDuff
    "I can see how a 12 year old can meaningfully consent to certain kinds of sexual activity. I can see how an adult can meaningfully consent to group sex in a park. I do not see any way for a 12 year old to meaningfully consent to group sex in a park."
    Odd how much you say "meaningfully". It basically proves my point that statutory rape is quite distinct from the other kind of rape and that rape and consent are a very problematic framework for interpreting the crime. Rather than consent being outright absent, it hangs on the subjective and massively culturally variable idea of what consent does or doesn't carry "meaning". You'd never hear of an adult rape victim's consent being "meaningful" or not.

    This is precisely why I think
    "you're not old enough for me to be able to make that decision."
    is completely wrong. The entire point of treating the crime as rape is quite explicitly saying "as a child, this participant's decision is irrelevant". The adult risks punishment for the decision, that decision clearly counts. It's the child that's excluded from the decision-making process.

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  33. Alex I totally agree with your last para.

    'It's the child that's excluded from the decision-making process'.

    And from these kind of discussions!

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  34. I'd hope so, to be honest. Surely twelve-year-olds have better things to do than spamming up the comments sections of newspaper blogs.

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  35. Nice article, thanks for the information.

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