Indonesia: Attitudes To Rape: The Media's Role

Published: Thu 13 Jun 2002 01:28 PM
Indonesia: Attitudes To Rape: The Media's Role
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The Jakarta Post
June 12, 2002
Angela Black, Contributor, Jakarta
Recently I was yet again appalled at media representations of rape, when a local TV network accounted for the cause of sexual violence with this statement: "Women walking at night should not wear mini skirts in order to avoid rape".
This advice was not the result of research and evidence, but of moralistic judgements ironically aimed at female victims. To the viewers the message that they obtain from this is that rape happens only to women wearing seductive clothing and that the men who commit rape are unable to control their desires as a result. Hence, rapists are the innocent targets of seduction by "bad" women who lure otherwise good law-abiding citizens into committing a sexual offence.
Research into rape refutes that there is a necessary cause-effect relationship between seductive clothing and sexual attack. Rather, experts argue that this sort of explanation is merely a myth established to justify female oppression through the control of women's behavior.
Although there can be no qualified data to support such an explanation of "cause", the reports of rape in the media continue to reinforce ignorant
attitudes. The Jakarta Post reported that a man broke into a woman's house just after she had finished taking a bath. The man raped her. The Post felt it necessary to end the report by commenting that the woman was wearing no underwear under her sarong.
As the inclusion of such information was irrelevant, what must the readership think? A woman was raped; she was improperly dressed. Are we to believe that the woman was at fault? There are strong implications here and whether this was intentional or not, the media must accept more responsibility for the role it has in shaping social attitudes.
To target a woman as the guilty party in her own rape has dangerous consequences, because as long as the "cause" is accepted by society as being female seduction, then victims will be reluctant to come forward. They will fear that instead of attaining legal and social justice, they will instead become the object of social condemnation, and accusations that they had somehow "invited" the rape. The knock on effect can only lead to a greater sense of impunity for sex offenders, and instead of preventing rape, may well encourage it.
Should they choose to, it is possible for members of the media to make a
positive contribution toward rape prevention, by first challenging their own preconceived ideas, and the way in which they report such incidents. They can begin by excluding suggestive "victim-blaming" remarks.
As for the readership, we should all take a more active role in rejecting or opposing damaging reports which promote prejudice or sexual violence. Perhaps we should consider the following advice as an alternative to that offered above: Women of any description should monitor the work of the media in order to prevent rape, because we are all potential victims, and only through actively working to change attitudes can we create a social environment in which women are encouraged to seek justice.
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