This post isn't about that though. It's about how we tell stories about rape.
In 2013, research from the specialist sexual violence sector looking at how the media report on sexual violence in Aotearoa showed some disturbing stuff: journalists do not understand the law and they do not interview experts, with no articles featuring commentary from specialist academics or researchers and just 8% featuring commentary from community experts.
This means that our news is full of rape myths, because journalists are like everyone else - they grow up in our rape culture. Despite the importance of the role of the mainstream media in educating the public about sexual violence, the only compulsory reading for student journalists in New Zealand features just three sentences about sexual violence in a 453 page book, and they are not helpful for unlearning rape myths (my emphasis):
“It is illegal to report the victims’ names in any sex crime; it can be unethical and untasteful to describe a sexual crime in graphic detail. It is particularly important to be cautious about taking sides in the reporting: with emotions running high, false complaints are often made regarding sexual offences. Both sides can be very believable in their differing accounts.”
For the record, Police estimate 8% of reports about sexual violence they receive are false. It's far more common for people to choose not to report to the Police - just one in ten survivors report. Both of these figures come from New Zealand Police, that bastion of feminist activism.
The media research identified six key areas where newspaper reporting could be more accurate. As the most fulsome report is at Stuff, that's where I'm looking.
- Sexual violence is not “just sex”
- It is rare for a survivor to lie about being raped
But rugby-mad Cardiff is a renowned party town, and the Welsh capital comes alive after a big match.
Come alive with the raping, Stuff? Or is there already an inference that what happened may not be that serious? Maybe the person calling this sexual assault - who we know nothing about, yet - confused partying with sexual assault?
- Violent stranger danger sexual violence is rare
- Unfortunately, rapists do not stand out
This case has hit the headlines because Mr Muliaina is good at rugby. So he stands out in that way, and we hear about what a popular All Black he was, that he's married with a son, that he has "silky" skills and a gold medal. We know which teams he's played for and his solicitor and agent have both been quoted by Stuff.
One of the ways news stories do a real disservice to communities around sexual assault is when they give a distorted view about people who rape. Unfortunately, rapists can be good at sport, they can be fathers and husbands and medal winners. They nearly always have other people in their lives who say good things about them. Even though it would be handy, no rapists have it tattooed on their foreheads. So while we will no doubt hear from many, many people how wonderful Mr Muliaina is over the next few weeks, none of this means he did not commit sexual assault. To decide that, we'll have to hear about his understanding of consent and his behaviour that night.
- Being raped is worse than being accused of rape
- Sexual violence has no excuses
We do know:
The arrest could spell the end for the 34-year-old's 15-year career playing top-level rugby, just a week after he signed a fresh deal with Italian side Zebre.We also know that Mr Muliaina's agent was "shocked" and his coach "stunned". We know he was "hauled away" by police "in the full glare of news cameras". Police, apparently, "pounced without warning."
So we already know this has been awful for Mr Muliaina.
We also already have a handy excuse lined up. Not only is Cardiff a party town, coming alive, but Mr Muliaina has a historic problem with alcohol.
The coverage of this case isn't gold star awful. Yet. But Stuff have made a valiant effort to shore up several of the myths New Zealand news coverage suffers from. Let's hope the rest do better.