UPDATE: This post also appeared on Femusings.org on Sept. 10, 2013.
The Daily Mail is the world’s most visited news site. Its popularity surpasses even that of the NY Times, which is frightening if you stop and think about it. Millions of readers apparently consider this anti-immigrant, sensationalist, lowest-common denominator tabloid a reliable source. But even if you can ignore the site’s frequent racism and Islamophobia, its blatant sexism will smack you in the face.
You see, that’s the problem with the Daily Mail. Sometimes its sexism is repugnantly obvious and sometimes it’s just subtle enough to slip under the radar. But the Daily Mail’s misogyny always ends up infecting the subconscious thoughts of readers, and those sexist biases end up lurking in people’s minds for years to come.
It’s like reading a schizophrenic newspaper. Sometimes the Daily Mail publishes a few articles that extol women’s progress in the world. But within minutes, a new piece is posted that slams feminism for everything it has achieved and “destroyed.”
That’s not even the worst of it. No, the Daily Mail’s most egregious stories on women’s issues come under the guise of “objective” reporting, and this is particularly true for its coverage of rape cases. The writers perpetuate false stereotypes and inaccurate information about the victims and perpetrators involved, if not exactly completely exonerating the latter.
According to the Guardian, last year the Daily Mail published 54 headlines about women crying wolf about rape:
When real occasions of false allegations are published, they’re news for the same reasons – they’re lurid and exciting, and they make you feel something. But they’re news because they are so rare. The Daily Mail specialises in perpetuating this narrative, with stories such as “The rape lies that ruined our lives” – it used the phrase “cried rape” in 54 headlines over the past year. Headlines such as “Wicked women who cried rape trapped by three-in-bed photos” reveal women to be the scheming harridans they always suspected, harridans who use their sexuality as a weapon, whose power lies solely in their body. These were real cases of false allegations, but the idea that it is a widespread problem, a weapon women use, is fiction.
In fact, as the article goes on to explain, a Crown Prosecution Service study found there were only 35 prosecutions for false rape allegations compared to the 5,651 prosecutions for rape in Britain over a 17-month period. The author adds, “And in the cases involving people under 18, almost 40% of the claims originated with their parents, which reduces the number of false allegations from “victims” even more.” Meanwhile, U.S. anti-rape organizations, like the Enliven Project, estimate only 2% of rape allegations in the United States are actually false. Here’s their info-graphic that illustrates this rate:
Moving beyond the disproportionate amount of attention the Daily Mail gives to alleged false rape accusations, let’s take a look at their coverage of proven rape incidents. Unfortunately, it’s not that much better.
I had the pleasure of meeting Jacqui Hunt, the head of the London office of the feminist organization Equality Now, in May while I was taking a Thomson Reuters Foundation journalism training course on women’s issues. She came in for one of our sessions to talk about the sexist reporting she sees on a daily basis. The above headline from a 2011 Daily Mail article was a particularly egregious one that she analyzed with us. It also was used as an example of the type of reporting the group insisted Britain’s Leveson inquiry should address.
If you were looking for proof of the Daily Mail’s schizophrenic reporting on rape then here it is. The headline and article simultaneously call the footballers rapists while blatantly suggesting the victims were ‘Lolitas’ who enticed the boys with a midnight orgy and have ruined these promising sports stars’ careers. Hunt pointed out some particularly befuddling sentences from the piece. Check them out below (emphasis my own):
Judge Stephen John heard that the six players picked up the two girls and drove in two Vauxhall Corsa cars to a recreation ground in Reading, Berkshire, where one of the 12-year-olds was raped by five of the men.
The other girl was more reluctant and was raped by just one player.
So at first glance we have a story about 5 adult footballers – all 18 and older – who raped one 12 year old. 12 years old! But then in the second sentence, the anonymous reporter writes a second girl was “more reluctant” and was only raped by one player. What does “more reluctant” even mean? So they’re implying the first girl got raped willingly? It’s an inherent contradiction.
And that’s how the rest of the article plays out, with the author constantly confusing the reader by using the word ‘rape’ and at the same time implying the victims consented to everything that happened to them. But it doesn’t matter whether one of the girls “consented” or not, sex with a 12-YEAR-OLD girl is illegal! She’s 12 years old, she doesn’t know what she’s doing. And please don’t tell me these five adult men (one as old as 21) really couldn’t tell how young these girls were. I know 12-year-old girls and make-up and clothes can only go so far. And what 12 year old really wants to have sex with five different men? Do YOU remember when you were 12 years old? Is that something you would have wanted to do? The full story is not being told here.
Clearly one girl feels pretty uncomfortable with the whole situation:
Mr Blake added: ‘The girls split up. One went beside the building and the other went to a children’s play area. She said one of the males kept asking her for sex. She was initially reluctant but eventually gave in to his persistence.
So the second girl “gave in” to the attacker’s “persistence.” In other words, an adult man was pressuring her to have sex with him. What are the chances this 12 year old was too scared and intimidated to refuse? Sounds like rape to me.
Think I’m just speculating? Well, why not! The Daily Mail certainly is and doesn’t seem to have any qualms about its “objective” reporting.
Now the kicker:
They [Defense lawyers] added that the careers of the promising young footballers had been ruined by ‘the biggest mistake [of their] lives’.
Yes, because that’s the real tragedy of the story. The lives of some footballers were ruined, not the junior-high girls who were gang raped.
You might say the Daily Mail was just quoting what the sources were saying. But that’s not true journalism. Journalists have the power to pick and choose which quotes they keep and which ones they don’t in their stories. Therefore, they have a responsibility to provide proper background information, to choose integral quotes and to put them into the correct context. They also have the responsibility to tell both sides of every story. And in my opinion this Daily Mail reporter has failed at his basic journalistic duty. He has cherry-picked sensationalist quotes and phrases (primarily used by the defense), like ‘Lolitas’ and ‘midnight sex orgy,’ that make it seem the adult men were the true victims of the case. And he structured the story in a way that proved exactly just that.
Rape victims’ identities are not disclosed by the press, unless they decline anonymity. But that doesn’t mean the reporter couldn’t have quoted some of the statements they presumably made in the trial, or he could have included more information from the prosecuting lawyer while still giving the defense team equal play. Clearly there was evidence against these men that proved they weren’t simply duped into having consensual sex with underage girls – enough evidence to get them locked up by the presiding judge. So where is that information in the Daily Mail’s news report?
Now I’ll admit this is a complicated story. It’s about a 30-year-old school teacher who ran away with his 15-year-old student, who has openly admitted she left with her teacher willingly and loves him. We can sit around all day arguing about whether a 15 year old can truly be in love at such a young age, whether she really understands what is going on, whether as a minor she can legitimately give consent, whether she is being manipulated by a perverted older man or whether she is suffering from some major low self-esteem. But that’s not what matters here. The real issue is that a 30-year-old man – 30 YEARS OLD – knowingly seduced his 15-year-old student. I repeat, 15!!! A 30-year-old man definitely knows sex with a minor is AGAINST THE LAW. Yet, he did it anyway. Really, is it any wonder that he was convicted by a judge for his crime? His actions qualify as rape and pedophilia under British law, so guess what, he’s going to jail.
But rather than focusing on this basic fact and unequivocally laying the blame on Jeremy Forrest, guess who the Daily Mail decides to guilt-trip instead? Thankfully, not the girl (at least, not totally). This time the fault gets pinned on the perpetrator’s wife. Somehow, even though they were estranged, she pushed him into the arms of a SCHOOL GIRL.
The Daily Mail quotes Forrest’s father:
‘He was in a very dark place then, he was desperate. He is much better now.’
Julie said: ‘I’m not excusing his behaviour, and he has to accept blame, but there were other factors.
‘Emily [the wife] was difficult for Jeremy to deal with. Jeremy is so giving and Emily enjoyed that as she needed constant reassurance.
‘When Jeremy started working at another school and things became difficult, he needed support – but Emily wasn’t there for him.’
Seriously, Daily Mail? This is a low blow even for you. The tabloid just uncritically prints everything his family has to say about the estranged wife. But where’s the rebuttal? Where’s the psychologist statement explaining that pedophilia and rape isn’t something that can be triggered by your wife dumping you? Where’s the wife’s own opinion about all this? Disgusting.
Not long after this article appeared, The Daily Mail published this other great piece, ‘I want to shake his hand and say thanks’: Father of schoolgirl abducted by Jeremy Forrest says he will walk his daughter down the aisle if she marries jailed teacher. This is a statement from the girl’s biological father who, it seems, really isn’t all that involved in her life. He goes on to say (emphasis mine):
Describing his daughter’s upbringing as unsettled, the 41-year-old lorry driver said the pair have his blessing should their relationship continue after Forrest’s prison sentence.
’It would be a dream for her to settle down and marry the man she loves,’ he said adding that he would be ‘proud’ to walk her down the aisle.The victim’s father would not condemn Forrest saying that although he wishes the couple would have waited until his daughter was 16 to have a physical relationship, he never feared for her safety.
He added: ‘People get suspended sentences for worse crimes.
Meanwhile, in an earlier article, it printed this statement from the girl’s mother:
I feel completely useless most of the time. I feel I have failed as a parent. Can’t understand how someone could do this to my child and I had no idea.
I feel like the worst mother in the world, whatever anyone else says it doesn’t matter. That is how I feel.
Someone got to my child. I never saw it coming or saw it once it was happening.
I feel like part of [my daughter’s] childhood has been stolen from me. I missed her last day at school, dressing her in her party dress and seeing her off to the prom has all been taken from us.
My relationship with her will never be the same again. She has aimed all her anger at me that she has to give evidence and attend court. Somehow that is all my fault and she feels she cannot trust me and she has gone to live elsewhere.
I feel like the [daughter] I know has died and I’m grieving for her and it upsets me beyond words.
Does anyone else think the biological dad comes out looking a lot better than the mom? The sentence that says “the father described his daughter’s upbringing as unsettled” implies the daughter’s behavior is not the dad’s fault. Obviously, the mom is the one to blame since she’s the one who gave her daughter the unsettled life. She’s also the one who is deriding herself publicly for not realizing her daughter was being groomed by a pervert. The dad makes no similar statement. He actually likes Forrest and thinks everyone is making too big a fuss about their love affair. I guess he’s the more sensible one here since he gets that this is a story about star-crossed lovers who should be left to love in peace. And he has to be right because that’s how the Daily Mail has been playing up the case since day one. The mother, on the other hand, is an incompetent parent who didn’t see any of this coming.
By not challenging any of the quotes it got from the sources and by not providing any sort of context as to how involved the mother and father are in their daughter’s life, the Daily Mail inadvertently (or not) sets up the mom as the worse parent. This in spite the fact the father says some truly ridiculous crap. But this is nothing new for the Daily Mail. It often demonizes women and mothers in its stories, certainly more so than it does fathers.
I want to close on this gem of an opinion piece, It’s heresy, I know. But not all women are victims. And not all rape is rape: It is a view that will outrage many, but Crimewatch creator NICK ROSS insists it is a debate we must not flinch from.
Well it’s certainly not heresy for the Daily Mail, which, as we saw with the number of headlines it prints about false rape allegations, takes the issue of slutty lying women seriously. Here are some great nuggets of wisdom from Nick Ross:
…Rape victims were once treated appallingly, as though it was all their fault, but have we now gone too far the other way? Many of the victims seem to think we have. The main argument of my book is this: we can aggravate crime by tempting fate, and we curb it by playing safe.
We have come to acknowledge it is foolish to leave laptops on the back seat of a car. We would laugh at a bank that stored sacks of cash by the front door. We would be aghast if an airport badly skimped on its security measures.
Our forebears might be astonished at how safe women are today given what throughout history would have been regarded as incitement. Not even in the licentious days of Charles II in the 17th Century was it acceptable for women to dress as provocatively as they have done in Western culture since the 1960s.
Equally they would be baffled that girls are mostly unescorted, stay out late, often get profoundly drunk and sometimes openly kiss, grope or go to bed with one-night stands.
No amount of temptation can excuse rape, or any other crime. On that point ‘slutwalk’ demonstrators [those reacting against a Canadian policeman whose advised women to ‘avoid dressing as sluts’ if they did not want to be harassed] are obviously correct. Yet for some it is heresy to suggest that victims should ever be held responsible at all.
There was an outcry when our Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority cut recompense to rape victims who had ‘contributed’ to their plight through ‘excessive’ drinking. The decision had to be reversed. But for any other crime, compensation can be reduced according to ‘the conduct of the applicant before, during or after the incident’.
Here we go again. Don’t you know gals, you ARE responsible for your own rapes! Ladies, here’s what you need to understand: we women are inanimate objects. We are commodities to be purchased and sold, just like laptops. So if we don’t hide and lock up the goods at night, our dignity is bound to be stolen. Duh. Expect to be treated like a human being? Who are you kidding! You’re a toy that exists for men’s pleasure. Your bodies incite men, whether you want them to or not. And God knows men can’t control their sexual urges. They really have no choice but to rape you!
But we 21st century women have it good. Since our ancient foremothers couldn’t leave the house without their fathers’ permissions and were bought and sold into wedlock, we should feel lucky the only bad thing that can happen to us is getting raped by an acquaintance if we have a drink with them. That’s just to be expected, right?
Nick, you want to know why there was an outcry over the decision to reduce victim compensation? Because no rape victim “contributes” to her “plight” EVER, no matter how much she has had to drink.
I can’t believe this is even up for discussion. Dude, everybody drinks. And nearly every Brit and American has gotten wasted at some point in their life. For heaven’s sake, that’s what college is all about! It’s what we see in the movies and it’s what we grow up dreaming we will do when we’re finally old enough to go to university. But shame on women for trying to live the college dream, right? Men can go out and drink as much as they want without fear, but women get what they deserve for expecting the same luxury.
Here are some real rape facts for you, Nick, courtesy of Rape Crisis (England Wales):
Studies show that most rapes are premeditated i.e. they are either wholly or partially planned in advance. All rapes committed by more than one assailant are always planned. Men can quite easily control their urges to have sex – they do not need to rape a woman to satisfy them. Rape is an act of violence – not sexual gratification. Men who rape or sexually assault does so to dominate, violate and control.
That fact is supported by scholars and researchers Susan Brownmiller and Nicholas Groth (Prof. Pamela Kaylor, PowerPoint Presentation on Gendered Violence, 2013. Ohio University). As is this next one, that most rapists aren’t just desperate for sex. They already have stable sexual partners:
Men who rape are as likely as any other man to be cohabiting or having a significant relationship with a woman. More than one in five women are raped by their partners or their husbands. Women who work as prostitutes or in the sex industry are usually dismissed as rape victims because of bias by the police, criminal justice system, juries and society in general.
Women who wear “revealing” clothes (by the way, what’s your definition of revealing attire? Because it varies among cultures) aren’t responsible for their rapes either:
Many women are led to believe that if they are not part of a certain category of women then they are ‘safe’ from being raped. Women and girls of all ages, classes, culture, ability, sexuality, race and faith are raped. Attractiveness has little significance. Reports show that there is a great diversity in the way targeted women act or dress. Rapists choose women based on their vulnerability not their physical appearance.
Sometimes women see themselves as ‘unworthy’ or ‘undesirable’ because of their age or physical appearance and therefore ‘safe’ from rape. Some men joke or make comments about women’s appearances or age to indicate whether she is sexually desirable or available, or as part of their defence in court, saying he thought ‘he was doing her a favour’, using her appearance or age. Women are raped from the age of three to ninety three. Rape is an act of violence not sex.
That’s also the reason why nearly 100% of Egyptian women (who are mostly Muslim and wear “modest” clothing, including face veils and hijabs) have reported being sexually harassed. It doesn’t matter what you wear. A rapist or harasser will find any excuse to attack you just because you happened to cross paths with him. And that’s also why it doesn’t matter how much you had to drink:
If a person is unconscious or their judgement is impaired by alcohol or drugs, legally they are unable to give consent. Having non-consensual sex with a person who is intoxicated is sexual assault.
Rapists use a variety of excuses to attempt to discredit the women they rape and to justify their crime. No woman asks or deserves to be rape or sexually assaulted. Often a rape case is defined more by the woman’s character than by what has happened to her. Newspapers and mass media often refer to women in the roles that they have within society – ‘young mother’, ‘grandmother’, ‘doctor’s wife’ etc. If the woman’s role or social position is not seen as socially acceptable, she is often held responsible not the rapist. For example, the original ‘Jack the Ripper’ and Sutcliffe in the late 70’s and 80’s were glorified by the press. (Jack the ripper has his books, museum, cocktails, computer games and even tourist walks in London named after him where you can visit the places women were murdered!)
The rules imposed on women’s behaviour allow rapists to shift the responsibility for rape onto women wherever possible, so that most of the perpetrators who rape are seen as victims of malicious allegations, carelessness or stupidity. There is no other crime in which so much effort is expended to make the victim appear responsible – imagine the character or financial background of a robbery victim being questioned in court.
So get off your high horse, Nick.
As for you Daily Mail, thanks for contributing to the degeneration of our society. The tabloid’s articles aren’t just harmless nonsense, they actively perpetuate rape myths and harmful stereotypes about rape victims and survivors to readers who don’t know any better. And then the misogyny gets internalized. Is it any wonder that so few women feel supported enough to bring their rapists to court?
Craven, Nick and Ellery, Ben. Jeremy Forrest was ‘in a dark place’ with his marriage when he abducted schoolgirl, say his parents as they blame his crimes on being depressed. Daily Mail. June 22, 2013 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2346607/Jeremy-Forrest-dark-place-marriage-abducted-schoolgirl-say-parents-blame-crimes-depressed.html#ixzz2XHEFyCSX
Daily Mail Reporter. Six footballers jailed over gang rape of 12-year-old girls in midnight park orgy. Daily Mail. March 17, 2011. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1367377/Six-footballers-jailed-gang-rape-12-year-old-girls-midnight-park-orgy.html#ixzz2XHdkkt3r
Enliven Project. The Truth About False Accusation. http://theenlivenproject.com/the-truth-about-false-accusation/
Greenslade, Roy. Mail Online goes top of the world. The Guardian. Jan. 23, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2012/jan/25/dailymail-internet
Hunt, Jacqui. Equality Now. http://www.equalitynow.org/
Kaylor, Pamela. Gendered Violence PowerPoint presentation. Ohio University. June 2013.
Kelly, Tom, Ellicott, Claire and Bains, Inderdeep. It’s as if the daughter I knew is dead, says kidnap girl’s mother as topless pictures which teacher sent to schoolgirl lover are revealed. Daily Mail. June 21, 2013. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2346034/Jeremy-Forrest-Topless-pictures-sent-victim-schoolgirl-pervert-teacher.html#ixzz2XHfc7Sly
Malm, Sara. ‘I want to shake his hand and say thanks’: Father of schoolgirl abducted by Jeremy Forrest says he will walk his daughter down the aisle if she marries jailed teacher. Daily Mail. June 22, 2013. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2346721/Father-schoolgirl-abducted-Jeremy-Forrest-says-walk-daughter-aisle-marries-jailed-teacher.html#ixzz2XHejq29V
Morris, Nigel. 100,000 assaults. 1,000 rapists convicted. Shockingly low conviction rates revealed. The Independent. January 10, 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/100000-assaults-1000-rapists-sentenced-shockingly-low-conviction-rates-revealed-8446058.html
Phillips, Melanie. It’s not just absent fathers, Mr Cameron. Family breakdown is driven by single mothers on benefits. Daily Mail. June 20, 2011. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2005677/Family-breakdown-driven-
Rape Crisis (England and Wales) http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/commonmyths2.php
Ramirez, Ximena. Nearly 100% of Women in Egypt Face Sexual Harassment. Care2. May 16, 2013. http://www.care2.com/causes/nearly-100-of-women-in-egypt-face-sexual-harassment.html#ixzz2XHgbHUbp
Ross, Nick. It’s heresy, I know. But not all women are victims. And not all rape is rape: It is a view that will outrage many, but Crimewatch creator NICK ROSS insists it is a debate we must not flinch from. Daily Mail. May 25, 2013. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2330934/Its-heresy-I-know-But-women-victims-And-rape-rape-Crimewatch-creator-risks-backlash-outrageous-views-sex-crimes.html#ixzz2XHdxQ8KO
Topping, Alexandra. Leveson inquiry must address sexist media stereotypes, say women’s groups. The Guardian. Jan. 24, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/jan/24/leveson-inquiry-sexist-media-stereotypes
Wiseman, Eva. The Truth About Women ‘Crying Rape.’ The Guardian. March 31, 2013. http://m.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2013/mar/31/truth-about-women-crying-rape
Featured image of Jeremy Forrest’s arrest courtesy of the The Independent.