Report Calls for Changes to Rape Coverage

By Shields, Rachel | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), February 24, 2008 | Go to article overview
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Report Calls for Changes to Rape Coverage

Shields, Rachel, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)

Stereotypical media representations of rape are damaging conviction rates when cases come to court, according to a Home Office funded study.

The study recommends fundamental changes in the way rapes are reported in newspapers and broadcasts.

The report, entitled Just Representations? Press Reporting and the Reality of Rape, concluded that highly selective and sensational reporting of rape cases has distorted public perceptions to such an extent that juries can no longer recognise the more typical rape when they are presented with it in during a trial.

Commissioned by the Lilith project, an organisation which carries out research into violence against women, the report highlights the enormous impact of prevailing press "myths" about rape.

The study identifies a press "construct" about rape - namely that it is an outdoor crime, suffered by an unimpeachable woman at the hands of a monstrous deviant - a scenario that actually contradicts all research and crime statistics, distorting public perceptions and feeding into the criminal justice system.

The widespread belief among the public is that women are most at risk of being raped when walking alone in dark or remote areas. Although instantly recognisable, the scenario bears little resemblance to the reality of most rapes.

More than 80 per cent of rapes in the UK are perpetrated by men known to their victim, and only 13 per cent happen in public places. The widespread misconception is largely generated by the media, according to the report.

Vera Baird, the solicitor general, said: "Jurors sit down expecting to hear what they have read about in the papers, and what they get is real-life rape.

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Report Calls for Changes to Rape Coverage


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