Magazine article Media Report to Women

Godlike Men and Sex Assault Coverage: The Cases of Cosby and Kumar

Magazine article Media Report to Women

Godlike Men and Sex Assault Coverage: The Cases of Cosby and Kumar

Article excerpt

Women have always gone to great lengths to avoid rape. In West and Central Africa, the most rape-ridden regions of the world, mothers sear or flatten their daughters' budding breasts to protect them from rape, lest they be perceived to be asking for it by their mere appearance (Mayor, 2014). In the Ottoman Empire, girls and young women used to put ash on their faces in order to appear unattractive (Otten, 2017). These practices reflect a cross-cultural and pan-historical "wisdom" embedded in folklore and literary texts: women are objects of male desire, and avoiding rape is their responsibility.

When raped women have challenged this narrative, they have faced attacks intended to humiliate and silence them. In the rare process of being held accountable, rapists have often received just as much, if not more, sympathy and concern than their victims -as did boxer Mike Tyson, convicted of the rape of 18-year-old Desiree Washington in 1992 (Lule, 1995; 2001), two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio, convicted of drugging and raping a 16-year-old girl on camera (Oppel Jr., 2013), and TV anchor Matt Lauer, fired after being accused of rape and serial sexual harassment (Jones, 2017).

Seeking an explanation for the longstanding and cross-cultural tendency to blame rape victims, this study compares and contrasts the news coverage of two recent cases in which the men facing sexual assault charges or accusations were celebrities. The goal is to contextualize the dominant media frames against the backdrop of ancient myths. It should be noted that, for the purposes of this study, the words "myth" and "mythological" refer not to modern rape myths, but to archetypal narratives that have shaped culture and social memory across time and space.

Important cultural tropes and popular sagas, such as Star Wars, have been molded upon mythical themes and archetypal characters (Moyers, 1988). News stories are no exception (e.g., Berkowitz, 2005; Bird & Dardenne, 2009; Lule 2001, 2005), but almost no previous research has investigated mythological motifs in the news coverage of rape. The only such analysis we uncovered concerned myths used in the coverage of Mary Kay Letourneau (Grimm & Harp, 2011). This analysis aims to fill in this gap in the literature through a feminist framing analysis of the news coverage of sexual violence committed by two celebrity men: former TV star Bill Cosby, convicted on three counts of sexual assault in April 2018 and still facing at least 10 civil lawsuits (Reilly, 2018), and former Bollywood actor Inder Kumar, who was never tried and died from a heart attack in July 2017 (Goswami, 2017).

The cases were chosen to compare Western and Eastern news narratives about rape within the context of Western and Eastern mythological narratives, respectively. The choice of an Indian celebrity reflected the ease of accessing English-language media content about him and the expectation that the coverage may reflect Hindu-Buddhist mythological motifs-contrasting with those of Greek/ Roman mythology, the narrative foundation of Western culture (Kaplan & Algon, 1997; Phipps, 1988). Although Kumar's celebrity status was not equivalent to Cosby's, he was well-known and popular in India, and his rape accusation received substantial media coverage.

Case Summary: Inder Kumar

A Bollywood actor appearing in more than 20 films ("Inder Kumar Saga," 2014), Kumar was arrested and charged with rape, grievous harm, and criminal intimidation after a 23-year-old model reported he had abused and sexually assaulted her (Dsouza, 2014). Kumar claimed the sex had been consensual, but a medical exam confirmed a rape had occurred ("Inder Kumar Saga"). The model reported that she had gone to Kumar's apartment on April 23, 2014, expecting to discuss her role in a film; instead, Kumar locked her up, raped her, and physically abused her for two days, until she escaped. Kumar was taken into custody and then released on bail of 30,000 rupees, the equivalent of about $460 (Dsouza, 2014). …

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