Rape culture presentation advocates for more media coverage, awareness

Megan Brown

Students, faculty and community members had the opportunity to hear Shelley Blundell, Ph.D. candidate and graduate student discuss the subject of rape culture in South Africa and the United States on Friday. The lecture, entitled “Framing Rape Culture: Media Coverage of Sexual Assault in the United States and South Africa,” brought attention to a troubling subject from a South African’s perspective and a communications perspective.

Blundell first gave a version of her presentation in Dr. George Cheney’s “Communication in a Global Society” last spring. She then submitted it to the Union for Democratic Communication/Project Censored conference at the University of San Francisco and was selected to present it as part of a panel on gender violence and hate speech in the media.

Blundell began her presentation with an interactive, anonymous poll. Its eight questions each started with “it’s not rape if.” Audience members were able to answer the questions either through text or an online survey. This helped Blundell get an idea of the audience’s view on rape culture.

“Most of you are probably familiar with Miley Cyrus’ recent image overall,” Blundell said. “The man behind the overall is Terry Richardson, who is currently being investigated on a number of charges after a number of supermodels have come out to accuse him of raping them and taking advantage of them, but he is still highly respected in the fashion community.”

“Rape culture, in the terms of the concept, can affect men but is primarily seen to target women, especially in the media.”

Rape is perpetuated through language, images, pop culture and legal reactions to sexual violence, she said.

“There is a focus on women or young girls on how to avoid becoming victims of sexual assault, but there is very little, if any, education to all people teaching them how to not be sexual assaulters,” Blundell said.

In one year approximately 300,000 women and 93,000 men are raped in the United States. Since 2000, the number has risen by 150,000. Sixty percent of sexual assaults are never reported.

“It’s terrifying to see these statistics and that this is happening in the world around us,” junior marketing major Maryellen Gorman said.

According to Kent State’s sexual assault team’s website, one of four college women and one of six college men will be sexually assaulted during their academic life. Nine of every 10 female victims know their attackers. Alcohol use is a contributing factor to 75 percent of sexual assaults that occur on campus.

“We need to be addressing students coming to campus on what can happen,” Blundell said.

Sophomore communications studies major Ryan Gilbert said he thought the presentation was especially relevant to college students.

“I think it’s important for college students to hear presentations like this because I think it can affect them the most,” Gilbert said.

Blundell used two examples of video clips dealing with rape-related cases, one from the Onion and the other from CNN. The Onion showed an unrealistic side of rape, while the CNN clip talked about the Steubenville case. The New York Times, CNN and Fox News all focused on the football stars rather than the victim.

“The closer the sexual assault occurs to home, the more biased the media becomes and tends to show mostly the impact on the town,” she said. “If the attackers are well-known in the town, they attend to get more sympathy and coverage than anybody else.”

In Blundell’s home country of South Africa, 25 percent of women have been raped in their lifetimes. South African police estimate only one in 36 rapes is reported to authorities.

“You have to understand our demographics. Our population is only 50,500,000 and we have 1.5 times as many rapes a year compared to the U.S.,” Blundell said.

Intimate partner violence is the leading cause of death for women in South Africa (one in three women). This is also in a country where one in four people are HIV positive or have AIDS.

South Africa does not have the same media freedom as the United States to bring attention to these issues. There are shortages of rape kits in South African police stations, and gang-rapes have become a common pastime for many young men.

“We need to change the media language,” Blundell said. “Changing media coverage of sexual assault can help decrease rape culture and raise awareness of the true nature of sex assault.”

Contact Megan Brown at [email protected].