One of Barbados’ most widely read national newspapers recently reported the rape of either a gender non-conforming lesbian woman or transgender man in its gossip column.
They described the rape as “male medicine,” a clear allusion to “corrective rape” whereby lesbian and gender non-conforming persons who were assigned female at birth are targeted for sexual assault. Female bodies are pathologized as inherently violable and gender and sexual transgressions are often punished with sexual assault.
The report of the rape within the gossip column trivialises the violence and recasts it as entertainment to be consumed. This invitation to collective ridicule works through dehumanization of the victim. Homo- and lesbophobia and transphobia converge to mark some of us as responsible for the very acts of violence against us.
The outrage against the Nation was swift and multidirectional. They have removed the article from their website and issued an apology.
Unfortunately, the way they chose to write about rape is not at all uncommon for Caribbean media. My colleague and I conducted research on reports of gender-based violence on a pan-Caribbean sample of online newspapers. We examined reports of violence against transgender and non-transgender women, intersex persons, sexual violence against girls as well as reports of domestic and intimate partner violence. Among the things we found were:
- trivializing of violence against transgender women and intersex persons through dehumanizing, objectifying voyeuristic reporting which focused on their bodies and dress and de-emphasized the violence against them
- reporting of sexual violence against girls as though the rape were an act of shared responsibility
- normalising sexual violence against girls
- use of sensationalist headlines which present gender-based violence as a kind of entertainment to be consumed
I think it is important to note that the Nation is not alone here. The mere fact that they chose to report the rape in this way means they assume an equally bigoted, lesbo and transphobic audience willing to delight and find humour in one of the most egregious acts of violence.