Philobiblon: Following the woman-bashing script

Monday, October 24, 2005

Following the woman-bashing script

Australian editors are traditionally interested in the Northern Territory only for crocodile wrestling stories and lurid murder trials, the latter category in which the Falconio murder trial definitely falls.

(A brief summary: a British couple were driving along an Outback highway. She reports that their car was flagged down, the man was shot, she was tied up, but fled and hid in the bush for five hours, before flagging down a passing truck. The boyfriend is presumed dead, but no body has been found.)

As might be predicted, media coverage depicting Darwin as "Hicksville" has upset the locals. The Chief Justice is ensuring he gets his name in all the papers, asking of the writer of the offending article: "How did he get out? Presumably by horse and carriage?" Entirely in line with the script.

Also in line with the script, all aspects of the reputation of the dead man's partner is being trashed in court, despite the fact that she is a victim of forced imprisonment, serious assault etc and spent many hours in fear of her life. The fact that all of the details she gave of her ordeal, no doubt in a state of shock soon after, and subsequently, don't exactly square up, is hardly a surprise. From what I know of the nature of memory in shocking circumstances (some from personal experience), she will have eventually constructed out of fragmentary memories a coherent narrative for herself; there's nothing solid about memory.

Actually, she's already been found guilty of not being sufficiently "womanly" - ie breaking down in public - just like Lindy Chamberlain.


Anonymous The Happy Feminist said...

As an attorney who has prosecuted sex crimes against women in U.S. courts, I have received the following types of feedback from jurors regarding the credibility of female victims:

-- She seemed too composed. If this had really happened to her, she would have broken down on the stand.

-- She broke down on the stand. Her demeanor seemed too contrived and theatrical.

-- She was hysterical. How can we trust any of her perceptions when she's obviously crazy.

-- I didn't trust her because she seemed so ANGRY.

10/24/2005 12:58:00 pm  
Anonymous The Happy Feminist said...

Sorry, I should clarify my first sentence. My practice involved prosecuting men for sex crimes committed upon women.

10/24/2005 12:59:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Your comments reminded me of running a seminar in Thailand for police and judicial officials about investigating sex crime. I asked a group whether they would advise a friend or relative to report an assault and the universal answer was no - which was entirely understandable.

But I'd be hard put to decide what to advise a friend in Britain or Australia - you'd still have to carefully evaluate whether they'd be able to take all of these pressures - which in this day and age is an extremely depressing situation.

I don't know what it is like in the US, but in Britain the rate of convictions is still a disgrace - mostly because juries just don't believe women witnesses, particularly if they can't show horrendous injuries.

10/24/2005 01:53:00 pm  
Blogger Biting Beaver said...

Not just the UK Natalie. Women in the states are just as scared to come forward, probably because of what The Happy Feminist reports. Unfortunatly she's all too right.

The statistics show this : Less than half of those arrested for rape are convicted, 54% of all rape prosecutions end in either dismissal or acquittal

21% of convicted rapists are never sentenced to jail or prison time, and 24% receive time in local jail which means that they spend an average of less than 11 months behind bars. (The Response to Rape: Detours on the Road to Equal Justice)

I'll have to dig around for the Justice Bureau's reports but I thought that this would suffice for now.

No wonder women aren't reporting it, with conviction and jail time this low it's no wonder that rape is exploding.

10/24/2005 05:44:00 pm  
Anonymous The Happy Feminist said...

Wow. I hadn't realized the statistics were quite that dismal. Yikes.

10/24/2005 06:34:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Australians have maybe learnt a bit from the Chamberlain case - we seem to be more circumspect about trashing the reputations of women in criminal cases.

Our papers have been pretty sympathetic to Joanne Lees, and believe her. The British papers have attacked her credibility, in a way which was pretty sickening.

In court, of course, it will be different, as the defence looks for every trick it can find in a case which is hugely weighted against the accused, unless they keep the evidence about the rest of his life out of the court.

The first evidence of being a hick is being touchy about being called one.

- barista

10/27/2005 10:12:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The UK tabloids are not, and as long as I can remember, never have been interested in the truth, only the best spinning of a yarn. The least important thing about the Falconio case, her liason with another, is what sells papers to the sick public. What should have been a private matter, and kept private, was opened to the world, had she told the truth or otherwise. I am not saying it should not have been investigated, but as it was irrelevant it should still have been kept private.
Princess Diane was a huge pull for UK tabloids. When she died, it was a direct result of being chased by photographers. In France, it is illegal to publish photos of anyone without their express permission, who is not breaking the law. The photos were to be sold to Britain, where laws of privacy do not exist. It was a direct result of this lack of a privacy law that cost her her life. A photo of her, taken discreetly in a gym, in leotards with her legs wide open, was exactly the depths the UK tabloids would go for sales, and all sanctioned by the British Government.
Miss Lees has had her reputation tarnished for no reason other than sensationalism and paper sales. Had she had been a man, it would not have been a headline. The UK tabloids have managed to turn the victim of a crime into what is percieved as the accused

12/07/2005 05:34:00 pm  

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