Monsters, playboys, virgins and whores: Rape myths in the news media’s coverage of sexual violence

From Language and Literature

Much of the news media’s coverage of sexual violence perpetuates myths and stereotypes about rape, rapists and rape victims. It is common for the media in such cases to portray rapists as monsters, beasts or perverts and women as promiscuous. This study textually analyses newspaper accounts of three rape cases, two from the USA and one from the UK, each of which represents a different type of sexual violence, to ascertain whether or not they disseminate rape myths. In these cases the majority perpetuated rape myths: through victim blaming or the myth of the sociopathic rapist. In all three cases analysed, the impact of the attacks on the victims was largely overlooked, which had the effect of trivialising the crime. Media coverage can shape public opinion and reinforce stereotypes. The study recognizes the consequences of offering a misleading representation of sexual violence, it may influence the definition and understanding of rape by the public, police, and members of the court. This study concludes that in order to combat the problem of sexual violence, the news media must provide accurate examples of rape that do not fit preconceived notions or conform to myths. Only through doing so can the media begin to address the wider societal issues that contribute to this crime.

Abstract

Much of the news media’s coverage of sexual violence perpetuates myths and stereotypes about rape, rapists and rape victims (Burt, 1980). This is troubling, as the news media shapes public opinion about rape (Soothill, 1991) and can affect policy-making, not to mention the running of the legal system itself (Emmers-Sommer et al., 2006: 314). The news media frequently portray rapists using monster imagery (Barnett, 2008; Mason and Monckton-Smith, 2008; Soothill et al., 1990), their victims classed either as ‘virgins’ attacked by these so-called ‘monsters’ or instead as promiscuous women who invited the rape (Benedict, 1992). These depictions can impact upon public opinion as the more frequently rape myths are used, the more accessible they become. This can be harmful to rape victims when individuals who subscribe to these myths are involved in the criminal justice system (Franiuk et al., 2008: 304–305). Through a lexical analysis of the newspaper coverage surrounding three news events gathered from three LexisNexis searches, this article assesses the use of rape myths within the British and American news media’s reporting of such violence.

Read this research for free

Article details
Shannon O’Hara (2012). Monsters, playboys, virgins and whores: Rape myths in the news media’s coverage of sexual violence Language and Literature, 21 (3) : 10.1177/0963947012444217

     
This entry was posted in Communication & Media, Linguistics, SAGE Insight and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.