BBC says it’s ‘devastating’ to be falsely accused of rape, reinforces rape culture.

I originally wrote and published this piece on my Tumblr on March 13th 2013 as a response to a feature on BBC’s Newsbeat. It is also a response to the reply I received in regards to the complaint I made to the BBC. I have decided to rewrite it and post it on here. This post comes with a trigger warning, due to the discussion of rape.

My social network feeds had mentioned this report. The evening repeat of this particular broadcast came on the radio while I was in the bath, and I found it distasteful.

The premise of the report highlighted that only two people a month were prosecuted for falsely reporting a rape, and that the effects of this accusations upon the wrongly accused individuals were, in the BBC’s words, “devastating”. This bullet point became the central focus of the report, with little more than a footnote consideration for the majority who have experienced, and survived, rape or sexual assault.

Although a valid fact, the emotive language used in this report when covering something many still do not accept as a rape myth is completely irresponsible of the BBC, who have a vast audience of all backgrounds across the UK and the world. The population are still questioning when an individual says they have been raped, which is detrimental to the individual’s well-being, as discussed in a more well-rounded article posted by The Guardian. This is also something that actively contributes to the fear of reporting such a crime, which was only brushed upon briefly within this particular report by the BBC, before the attention was returned to the devastation felt by those who had not been subjected to a victim, intrusive experience such as rape and sexual assault.

In addition to this, it is utterly inconsiderate of the BBC to report something of such a sensitive nature from this particular angle and without a trigger warning, potentially causing relived trauma to plenty of survivors out there who may have been accused of lying about their ordeal by the individuals who committed the crime, or by the loved ones who they turned to for support.

Frankly, it’s unsurprising to view this lack of sympathy from the BBC, considering the BBC’s dark past and, more recently, its involvement in allowing an accused rapist to defend himself to the media, alongside articles containing glowing reports about the positive work performed by the accused, and glowing supportive comments from their peers.

So, I sent the BBC a quick little complaint.

YOUR COMPLAINT:

Complaint Summary: The report was insensitive, bias & offensive.

Full Complaint: I found the angle used in Newsbeat’s report on the ‘devastating’ affects of false rape reports disgusting, bias & offensive. I believe the angle the writers reported from was not at all sensitive to the hundreds of thousands of women who are raped, and are accused of lying about it – which in itself is massively devastating for the survivor. This broadcast reiterated the gender-bias, victim-blaming, rape culture we live in, that many movements are trying to tackle. This report was a huge step backwards. Listening to the broadcast, even with the additional amendments at the end of the report after the initial broadcast earlier today, was traumatic. I would argue that this item should be removed, and Newsbeat should offer a formal apology alongside an additional report correcting the rape myths they reiterated in their report. Perhaps next time write for the cause, rather than against it.

I received this response earlier today.

‘Dear Miss H***y

Thank you for contacting us regarding ‘Newsbeat’.

We understand you had concerns about a news article which related to a recent CPS report on the number of false rape claims made in proportion to legitimate claims prosecuted.

We passed your concerns to Rod McKenzie, Editor, Newsbeat who has responded with the following:

“This was a story commissioned to specifically examine what it was like to be falsely accused of rape. To help contextualise the story we reported on a 17 month study carried out by the Crown Prosecution Service which set out to establish how common such false rape allegations were. In the past we have published many stories highlighting the issues surrounding rape and domestic violence, specifically targeted at our core audience of 15 to 24 year olds. Please find links for two such stories below:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/17230648 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/17238674 

On this occasion we chose to look at those young people – usually men – who are occasionally wrongly accused. We know from our audience research that among this group concern over this issue is commonplace – we sought to contextualise this anxiety. I do not agree we misrepresented the study, or published an article that might somehow put people off reporting such serious crimes. However, having considered feedback I agree we were not clear enough in our wording. For clarity we have replaced a word in the second sentence from ‘common’ to ‘unusual’. 

In the fourth line of our story we quote the Director of Public Prosecutions Kier Starmer who says false rape allegations are ‘serious but rare’. In the accompanying video he makes the same statement within the first fifty seconds. Whilst our story hears from a young man who says he was wrongly accused, we ensure that rape victims are given a voice by running quotes from Dianne Whitfield from Rape Crisis. We also feature a video which contains a Nottinghamshire Police spokeswoman who says their starting point is always to believe allegations of serious sexual assault. She goes on to explain how thoroughly they investigate both sides of any allegation. Far from downplaying the seriousness of rape we finish our article by publishing the phone numbers of advice lines for people who believe they may have been the victim of rape or domestic violence.

On the day this story was broadcast we received a big response from our young audience, and we openly invited feedback on this challenging topic. Whilst some people did say our reporting of false accusations was damaging to real rape victims, on our Social Networking sites false accusations were described as “disgusting”, and one young man told us that he felt the bigger problem was that these claims make life harder for real rape victims to be taken seriously. On Twitter another young male listener told us “Allegations of rape not only waste police time but wreck the lives of those accused! And another wrote… “My 23 year old nephew was recently accused of rape. He then killed himself. The girl did it again to another guy.”

Our view is that all aspects of this story merit coverage and debate and we will continue to do so.” 

Thank you again for taking the trouble to get in touch with us. 

Kind Regards

BBC Complaints’

My huge problem with this response – if Newsbeat’s audience research had shown that a lot of young men were worried about being rapists, then why did the BBC not run a report discussing CONSENT & HOW CONSENT WORKS & “THIS IS HOW NOT TO BE A RAPIST”, rather than focusing intently on a minuscule statistic that reiterates a commonly expressed negative depiction of rape survivors? Plus, surely tailoring a news report to suit a target audience is enacting bias? Also, publishing phone numbers and featuring a couple of seconds of soundbite offering support for those who have experienced a sex crime does not cancel out the biased, damaging report the BBC released focusing on the emotively “devastating” effects of this rare phenomena. Also, those links sent in the response to my complaint focus on how teenagers can avoid becoming VICTIMS of rape, rather than highlighting that the behaviour of the male character is incorrect and that of a rapist.

In short, the BBC are coming across like a bunch of victim-blaming, rape-culture-reiterating pigs, aren’t they?

If these issues have affected you, don’t listen to be the BBC. Don’t be scared to say how you feel – someone will always believe you. We will always believe you. Don’t let anyone make you feel like a liar.

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