Traditional media continues to play a crucial role in the way the world perceives women. Representations and scripts relating to gender in the media are complicated and while some distinguish them as realistic they don’t represent the world directly. There are many stereotypes and widely circulated ideas and assumptions about sex and gender within our society, however today I would like to focus on the representation of the female victim in the media.
I am sure everyone has heard of Law & Order: SVU. If you haven’t, it’s an American television show that centres on the investigators in the Special Victims Unit, who primarily work on cases related to sexual assault, rape and violence against women. With this in mind you’re probably thinking there is gonna be a whole lot of representations, scripts and stereotypes in this juicy media text. While this is partly true, it’s actually the lack of representation these female victims get that’s disturbing. We all know the storyline; masked stranger attacks woman at night while they are walking in the city. The victim is usually found dead, stripped naked, covered in bruises/gashes or horribly mutilated. We get some close up shots of said mutilated body in the morgue, some info on how the victim died… and that’s usually it in terms of her visual representation.
The investigators then piece together her life from odds and ends in her apartment and stories from her family and friends. As the investigators begin to track down the perpetrator (usually male) many significant details about his life come to surface. As for the female victim… well she kind of just fades into the background.
The problem with this scenario is that a masked stranger in a dark alleyway doesn’t commit most sexual assaults. About 2/3rds of the assaults are committed by someone the victim or survivor knows (Trask 2014). It seems that a lot of television and films that feature rape follow the same script when referencing a sexual assault. This seems to be where the media is failing victims and survivors. The assault in question is usually a catalyst for another action, just a small piece in the plot. Of course I am making generalisations here and am mostly referring to your stereotypical American crime shows, but these representations of rape victims and survivors in the media are still prevalent.
If the effects of sexual assault on the victim were explored further in shows like Law and Order: SVU do you think it would make a difference? Sexual assault certainly attracts media attention, but is the way it’s being represented helping or hindering the case? Have a look at this new campaign against sexual assault that doesn’t feature any rape victims or survivors. Do you think this is a fresh perspective? Does this make you want to respond? Would you be more inclined to respond if it did feature the victim… or do you prefer Daniel Craig?