Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Rape according to Carole Malone

I discovered Subtext magazine a few weeks ago and have since been going through their back issues. There was an excellent article by Heather Kennedy in issue 5 reporting on media attitudes towards teenage motherhood ("Pramface: The media victimisation of teenage mums"). The article pays close attention to the link between the social subjugation of this perceived ‘underclass’ and the tabloid press, making mention of the middle-class snobbery that underlies ‘Vicky Pollard’ comparisons and insulting imagery used to describe teenage girls who find themselves pregnant or with a child. Unsurprisingly the publications in question were tabloid favourites The Sunday Mirror, The News of the World and The Sun. Perhaps what is slightly more unsettling is that the columnists quoted were both female, one of whom is the subject of this post, Carole Malone.

Malone - now a highly prized News of the World columnist, has written for The Sunday Mirror and been involved in various light entertainment TV shows including that most cerebral example of female debate, Loose Women. Not being the greatest consumer of tabloid materials, she has remained relatively off radar for me until now. I almost wish I hadn’t done my research, but unfortunately I suffer from an unusual affliction whereby I regularly feel a compulsion to listen to/watch/read about things that really piss me off. I feel like it shocks my own beliefs into reaffirmation. The last time this happened was when I first listened to Nick Ferrari’s breakfast show on LBC (who incidentally also used to employ Malone). If you have never had the misfortune to listen to this show, and you don’t share my aforementioned condition I wouldn’t recommend you start. Suffice it to say Ferrari is bigoted, ignorant and misinformed. London’s Biggest Conversation with Ferrari at the helm turns into a monologue of bitter rants against whoever the host believes deserves it on that particular day. Recently I’ve heard him slate women who become pregnant without first notifying their employers, host an hour long debate about Amy Winehouse’s emphysema diagnosis (where’s the show dedicated to Pete Doherty?), and complain about an Iraqi child receiving compensation for injuries sustained in an attack by British troops. This should illustrate the type of ‘journalist’ we’re dealing with, and Malone is cut from the same cloth: that of offensive and deliberately controversial hyperbole dressed up as outspokenness and strength of character. That these pompous individuals appeal to the mainstream is a terrifying prospect. Read on if you dare.

So, the article I so unfortunately happened upon while looking into Carole Malone’s repertoire of moralistic musings is probably not alone in its abhorrent levels of ignorance, but it was the most relevant to discuss on this blog. It concerns the recent rape allegations made against Blue Peter presenter of yesteryear, John Leslie. Clearly a topic of this sensitive nature should be afforded the resource that it deserves and the objectivity it requires, a safe pair of hands, right? Wrong. In the eyes of The News of the Word, this is apparently a brief for a columnist seemingly oblivious to the representation of fact, one who has a clear gripe (or just plain can’t be bothered) with research. Enter Carole Malone. I gave up highlighting contentious paragraphs of this article — entitled 'There's no point crying rape now' (29.6.08) — when it became clear that I would be left with little to show in the way of white paper. The whole thing is an fine example of appalling attitudes towards rape victims that not only still exist in the social consciousness but are widely accepted, nestling between last night’s TV and ads for timeshares in Britain’s “biggest selling newspaper”.

Among her many qualms, Malone has taken most offence to the fact that the alleged incident involving Leslie and an anonymous woman has only now been reported, 13 years after the event. Without a shred of empathy, Malone says: “[the girl] had the chance to come forward after the alleged rape in 1995. Why didn’t she?” And later “She had another chance in 2003 when Leslie was big news—being publicly pilloried as a sex attacker, named as the alleged rapist of Ulrika Jonsson and hauled before the courts (and later cleared) of two charges of indecent assault. If ever there was a time to come forward that was it.” Nice. Setting aside the fact that Malone clearly believes that the justice system is an unquestionable authority, these are the most ridiculous grounds for assuming Leslie’s innocence, which Malone clearly does. The likelihood of a rape actually having taken place being directly related to the speed at which it is reported is a ludicrous idea, and cannot possibly be based on any fact. A recent report in The Guardian outlines the problems faced by rape victims when reporting the crime as well as during the conviction process, citing views such as Malone’s as the major factor in why so many rapes are unreported and conviction rates are still only 6.1% (in some areas in the country they dip as low as 2.3%). Police were blamed for “too often greeting complaints with scepticism and intertia”. Juries need to be warned that “victims are often slow to report the attack…and may appear surprisingly unemotional while in the witness box.”

Malone also comments on the fact that after the alleged incident, the woman went on to marry, have a child and live a relatively normal life, bleating “It’s hard to understand how, despite her supposed pain, her devastation, she very quickly met and fell in love with a wealthy businessman, had his child and moved abroad to start a new life with him.” Why is it? What does Malone want, to see rape victims forever marred by their trauma, to see their lives ruined or stopped in their tracks? Does she want to put a caveat on the recovery process as well as a time limit on reporting attacks? Why should a woman who has been unfortunate enough to have gone through a rape NOT have a happy ending? And on the flipside, when did someone getting married and having a child and being depressed about something become an unfeasible possibility? Could it not be that this woman held onto her devastation, but also got married and had a baby? Malone clearly believes that this woman’s personal problems and the alleged rape are unrelated, citing her “sad life” and pondering whether her alcohol dependency could have arisen from “the fact the big career she dreamed of never materialised? Failed romances? A predisposition to alcohol?” Not once is it recognised that alcohol – as unfortunate as it is true – is a crutch leaned upon by the victims of crime on a daily basis, not just those affected by rape, and the other failings this woman has experienced would be well recognised as symptoms of post traumatic stress.

It is absolutely astonishing that not one statistic— not one quote or example— is drawn upon to back up Malone’s pig-headed repartee. In fact, she uses the most basic of adolescent justifications: “I don’t know her, but…” There are several occasions on which she uses this unsophisticated device, as if to say “I don’t know what I’m talking about, so I couldn’t possibly be held responsible for my words if they happen to offend.” Since when was openly admitting that you know nothing about your subject matter and that you are basing an entire piece of work on assumption an admirable quality in current affairs journalism? Of course, a columnist is employed for their unique take on the varied interests of their readership, but disregarding evidence that may be in opposition to their own agenda— particularly on issues such as this— is irresponsible, and dangerous to boot. That Malone assumes herself to be any kind of authority on how the ‘average’ rape victim would behave if they had been attacked by John Leslie is beyond comprehension or explanation. “I know most women who’ve been raped wouldn’t—couldn’t—leave it 13 years to do something about it”. How exactly she’s come across this invaluable piece of knowledge is unclear. The Metropolitan Police’s assistant commissioner John Yates recently recognised "we've got to get a better understanding of how victims react: don't expect consistency, don't expect victims to report right away, and don't expect victims to scream and shout." He is advising mainly police and juries here, but these are words that Malone could do with looking over. The myths surrounding rape, its perpetrators, and its victims are the biggest hindrance to rightful prosecution of rapists and the resolution to the nightmare that follows reporting a rape for a victim. That these myths are perpetuated by the media in this way, and by a woman atop of that, is absolutely despicable.

Perhaps the most misguided comment in this piece is when Malone claims that “we live in an age where rape accusations are taken extremely seriously, where our rape laws are stacked in favour of women, and those women are guaranteed anonymity if they want it, which is why there’s absolutely no reason for ANY woman who has been raped NOT to come forward.” I wonder if Malone is aware that (according to the most in depth statistics available at The Campaign to End Rape website), 1 in 4 women in the UK have been the victim of rape or sexual assault, that over two thirds of cases are dropped at police level, that one quarter of crimes originally logged as rapes by police are later ‘no-crimed’, and of those ‘crimed’, half are later dropped. Well, aren’t we lucky? I wonder if Malone is aware of the fact that despite 34 rapes being reported to police every minute, only a quarter of UK local authorities provide services for rape victims. Yes, Carole, we are ever so lucky. The Fawcett Society is an excellent source of information on how the justice system treats women (both offenders and victims) and a quick scan of their website quickly dispels Malone’s skewed vision of women as the abusers of the justice system, charting the progress of campaigns designed to overturn outdated attitudes such as hers.

I guess it’s a bit too much to ask that Carole Malone might display some sort of feminist solidarity, but what dismays me most about this whole unsavoury piece is that she actively supports the notion that the sexual objectification and resulting abuse of women’s bodies is the harmless sport of males, referring to John Leslie as a ‘sleazeball’ and ‘a pest with women’, as if these qualities are an annoying yet inevitable presence in the male sex. Employing euphemistic phraseology with such cowardice, she uses this as an argument for his innocence – why? When does one cease to be a ‘pest’ and become a rapist? Why should women have to put up with either scenario? It’s unclear why Malone is so sure that Leslie didn’t commit the offence in question – maybe she’s a believer in the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ manifesto, although her complete judgement of the woman involved would suggest otherwise. She’s also inexplicably bothered by rape victims’ right to anonymity, and while this is far too obvious a point for me to labour, I can’t help thinking that its people like her and the attitudes she perpetrates – more so the courts and the legal system – that these laws protect women from. I can only imagine how a rape victim would feel reading this most poisonous and ill-informed piece of writing, and I will leave it at that, I will not speculate. Maybe Malone should have done the same.