It's The Same Old Story: Rape Representation in New Zealand Newspapers (1975 - 2015)
Newspaper reporting of rape, and in particular, representations of women as rape victims, have historically been presented by the media in a misinformed manner, influenced by myths and misconceptions about the dynamics of sexual violence. Previous research has shown media depictions can promote victim-blaming attitudes which affect society’s understanding toward sexual violence, promoting false narratives and rape-supportive beliefs. Victim narratives of sexual victimisation struggle within a ‘culture of silencing’ that prevents the majority of sexual offending from coming to the attention of authorities, and identifying the silencing of women’s experiences of rape has, and continues to be, a key objective for feminist scholars. Newspapers are one medium which has been exclusionary of women's experiences, therefore it is important to look at the role of newspapers on a longitudinal level to investigate whether there have been changes in reporting practices and attitudes. To address this issue, this study draws on feminist perspectives and adopts a quantitative and qualitative methodology utilising newspaper articles as a specific source of inquiry. Articles concerning male-female rape were collected from eight prominent New Zealand newspapers across a 40 year period from 1975 – 2015 with individual years for analysis being 1975, 1985, 1995, 2005 and 2015. Results from this analysis show minimal inclusion of women’s words regarding newspaper commentary in articles concerning rape. This study also found that across the four decades of analysis, newspapers consistently reported the rape of women by strangers, and sympathetic justice system responses were achieved if the victim was ‘respectable’ and adhered to an ‘appropriate’ version of femininity. The findings from this study illustrate discourses that reflect features of a broader social discourse relating to the responsibility of women to protect themselves from rape. The implications from this research can be utilised to better inform journalists in their reporting practices on sexual violence cases in the New Zealand press, with a hope to challenge the way that newspaper reporters and consumers think about constructing rape, and women as rape victims.