It’s not sex – it’s …

Another case for the “It’s not sex, it’s rape” files, except that this time, I’m not sure that “rape” is the right word to use.

This case concerns murder and sexual violation. It could be triggering, so the rest of the post is below the cut, and I’ve included some blank space so that you can flick past this on your feedreader without having to read the details, even inadvertently.


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New Zealand man Jason Somerville has pleaded guilty to strangling two women, one of whom was his wife, and “having sex with them” after he killed them [link]. In the statement of facts accompanying his guilty plea, his actions are described as “having intercourse” or “having sexual intercourse” with the dead women’s bodies.

But how does the newspaper article render it?

Why, as “sex” of course.

Jason Somerville strangled both his victims to death before having sex with them.[link]

I find that incredible. “Having sex” implies a degree of mutuality, an assumption of two (or more) people engaging in an act together. There is no way that performing sexual intercourse on a dead body counts as “having sex.” Describing it as “having sex” minimises and trivialises the enormity of the crimes committed by Somerville.

I’ve written at length about consent in the past, trying to understand why people might think that mere absence of a “No” connotes consent, and in the last day or two, I’ve been wondering what on earth causes the rape culture that seems to be endemic in some of the residential colleges at Sydney University. I suppose the causes are complex and messy and tangled. But surely the thoughtless and casual conflation of rape / sexual violation and “having sex” by the news media has some effect. When it’s all just “having sex”, then clearly, rape is simply not possible, and all a chap or a bloke or a scion of Sydney’s best families is trying to do, is to get his end away. And there’s no crime in that.

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It’s been a sorry start to the week. I think I will resort to some cheerful food blogging tomorrow.

10 responses to “It’s not sex – it’s …

  1. Grrr, I totally agree. This story, and the one about the Christchurch prostitute who was threatened into ‘having sex’ with a cop without being paid (once she found out he was a cop – he had been a prior paying customer) have had me shouting at the TV all week. In the latter case, even the women’s lawyer (a woman) hasn’t said the word ‘rape’. WTF?! I guess because she’s a prostitute, has had sex with the guy before, and because it’s her word against a cop’s, then they’re just trying to make any charge stick? SO ANGRY.

  2. I get so mad about this one. Apparently, if a woman isn’t a virgin then she can’t be raped because she was clearly asking for it.

  3. No, it isn’t sex – I snarled at the radio when I heard this story, on National Radio of all places. But it isn’t rape either – the victims were dead when they were sexually violated.

    I believe the offence is covered by Section 150 of the Crimes Act: “misconduct in respect of human remains.”

  4. The other one I hate (and I had a rant about this a few days ago on my blog) is using the term “schoolgirl” when reporting on the sexual assault of a girl. Like it or not, the word “schoolgirl” has sexual connotations and using it undermines the seriousness of the offence.

  5. Thanks Deborah. Didn’t want to be pushy. Back to the topic of consent – can you imagine the outcry if Polanski had drugged and raped a 13-year-old boy? No one would be calling it sex then and I seriously doubt Hollywood would be lining up to support him.

  6. Very happy to put the link in, NwN, and I’m fine with people linking in comments. I retain the ability to edit the links, after all.

  7. Deborah: Don’t you love having to waste your time stating the bleeding obvious? If The Press was squeamish about using the R-word, what the hell is wrong with a good old fashioned “desecrated the bodies of his two victims”? I can’t see how that would be considered inaccurate or prejudicial.

  8. “can you imagine the outcry if Polanski had drugged and raped a 13-year-old boy?”

    Actually no, I think there would have been a deafening silence.

  9. brilliantmindbrokenbody

    Why on earth can’t they say something accurate? Gah.

    Sexually assaulted their bodies. Not that hard, people.

    But then, I’m a survivor of sexual assault, so maybe I’m accustomed to the difficult words. Or, you know, a human being who supports the humanity of others by calling a crime what it is.

    ~Kali