We all know the name Jaycee Lee Dugard, as we did Elisabeth Fritzl, thanks to the media who have ensured the cases have been highlighted, sensationalised and removed from all the dignity and solemnity that you might expect for victims of repeated sexual assault. There are a few things going on with these stories and their treatment so I thought it might be worthwhile having a look at them, and comparing them with the treatment of Katie Price, who this week has said in an interview with OK! magazine that she has been raped on two occasions.
First, what links the cases is that they took place outside the UK - and our favourite newspapers, usually forced to keep victims anonymous, can't help themselves. Because they can reveal all about the victims' identities, they do. Because they can reveal all the details without denying someone the right to a fair trial, they do. Because there's a detachment of distance between them and the events, it seems that things like compassion go flying out of the window.
Even despite that, I was a bit gobsmacked to see this on the front page of the Mail the other day:
"Girl fathered by monster". A blurred image of the back of someone's head. Why go to the trouble of showing them, if you're going to blur it? Why not just print their face, their address, their shoe size, everything? But no. There's a veneer of respectability involved; there's the titillation of the "monster" and the incest while pretending to be sensitive about identifying the children involved. The Mail, and others, have been happy to use the names of the children. And you get the feeling they will probably never be left alone:
The two girls are coming to terms with the news that Garrido was not the 'perfect father'.
Jaycee is revealing 'bit by bit' to the girls how he snatched her at a bus stop while she was on her way to school aged 11 and kept her prisoner for 18 years.
She is telling how she pretended to be Garrido's wife and brought them up as his daughters to ensure they all survived. "This is going to take years of therapy," said Jaycee's stepfather.
It's a horrible story, but you have to wonder: what benefit is there to anyone in knowing any of this? Not just the names, but the details? Is this just descending into a bit of a point-and-leer freakshow, rather than the distressing crime it really is? And are the newspapers really helping or just making it worse?
Hadley Freeman in today's Guardian writes:
How should newspapers refer to a victim of kidnap? Heaven knows in these modern days the question of appropriate nomenclature seems to get more complicated – and my hat is tipped to the female actor v actress debate that so exercised Guardian readers recently – but the aversion some newspapers in this country felt towards the term "kidnap victim", or even just "victim", when reporting the discovery of Jaycee Lee Dugard last week was notable. Even more surprising was the term that is apparently more acceptable, more au courant: sex slave.
Last week the Daily Mail and, less predictably, the Times used this term in their headlines about the case, while the tabloids, of course, pledged their support to the term, too. London's Evening Standard slapped it on their familiar billboards all over town, which managed almost to neuter the term through prosaic repetition. But then, "kidnap victim" does lack an illicit erotic kick, don't you find?
I have to admit it's a pretty unpleasant term, sex slave, as it's one that can be used in a consensual context far removed from the awfulness of these crimes. Rape slave might be a bit more near the truth of it, though I'm not sure even about that. But why use anything like that at all? We're all adults; we all understand what has happened if a woman has been held captive for years by a sex offender who has fathered children with her. We don't need the endless details being spilled out - or do we? And if we do, how does it help any of us to know them? What do we learn? Or is it just satisfying a prurience, a curiosity? And if so, is that right?
There's an attitude towards victims of sex crimes that goes beyond the simple gawking at Fritzl or Dugard, who hopefully will be able one day to be able to live relatively normal lives. Perhaps, like Sabine Dardenne, the victim of Belgian paedophile Marc Dutroux, there will be the chance to come to terms with what has happened and even find a way to use the media in a positive way to express themselves. We can hope. But what of others who break their silence over sex crimes? What if they happen to be celebrities?
It's quite obvious the story of Katie Price has appeared so prominently in the Star and Express
because the interview is an exclusive in OK! magazine
in which she says she has been raped more than once. It's a big admission for someone to make when you bear in mind the seriousness of the crimes and it would be difficult for anyone to imagine it as a cynical ploy for media manipulation. I say 'difficult' because it's certainly not impossible, as these comments from Mail readers on their version of the story. Sometimes you have to think - as I did last week when my local paper bewilderingly asked readers to 'have their say' on a man who had committed suicide and allowed through all sorts of unpleasantness, including "I'm glad he jumped" and "Where were his family?" - and ask yourself what benefit comments on stories like that actually produce, other than some web traffic? What can you really add to a story about rape or suicide without opening the sluice gates and seeing a raging flow of effluent heading towards you, or at the very least crushing insensitivity?
These are the top rated comments. Please note that as the Mail itself says they have all been moderated in advance:
The worst rated are even more startling:
"Rape is a bad thing" - NO, VOTE IT DOWN! It makes for fairly unpleasant reading, how anything approaching sensitivity is dismissed instantly whereas anything shrill and hateful is given glowing approval. Is that just the way the world of internet commenting is, with the spiteful and nasty winning out over the reasoned and sensible? I hope not.
I also kind of hope that doesn't sum up the British public's view towards these subjects, but you have to wonder.
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Hello. I'm a Bristol-based writer and soon-to-be-redundant journalist. You can read more about me and the Enemies site here, or follow me on Twitter. Email me if you like - antonvowl at live dot co dot uk
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