Normalising gender violence?

Date: February 27, 2011
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Normalising gender violence?

In November 2010, a 15 year old girl at Jules High School allegedly accused her school mates for raping her at the play ground after consuming alcohol. The story made headlines in different South African stories and different newspapers shaped their own agenda around this case. As the story unfolded, readers were told that the girl had consented to the sexual act; that the girl had consumed alcohol within the school premises with the alleged rapists and she was then charged for engaging in sexual acts as a minor. Furthermore, her school mates cursed her and said that she had given the school a bad reputation. In this case, the media’s role in reporting can be questioned as it ran a parallel trial judging the girl and shaping the ultimate sentence. The mediation prompted questions about the role of the media in ending gender violence.

Articles analysed:
When rape is perceived as normal, society needs help, Sunday Times, 14 November 2010
Witnesses damn her but boys still face statutory rape case, The Star, 8 November 2010
Sex or rape? Something is terribly wrong, Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, 22 November 2010
Schoolgirl’s suffer in silence, Mail and Guardian, 12-18 November 2010
I was not in control after taking drink- Jules pupil, The Star, 9 November 2010
Sex, alcohol and school, The Star, 15 November 2010
Rape girl charged, The Citizen, 18 November 2010
Girl, 15, faces rape charge, The Star, 17 November 2010

What can the case study be used for?
The case study can be used to raise awareness on how the media should report on rape and how it should desist from parallel trial. The 2008 SADC protocol on Gender and Development notes that, “…the media has a constructive role to play in the eradication of gender-based violence by adopting guidelines which ensure gender-sensitive coverage.” Thus the case can be used to demonstrate good and bad journalism. In addition, these articles may be used to:

– Discuss the different types of gender-based violence
– Debate the verdict passed by the court and whether the laws in place adequately address gender-violence
– Discuss safety and security within schools
– Develop guidelines on how to report on rape in the media
– Discuss whether the media is part of the problem or part of the solution in ending gender-based violence



The headlines under which the rape case is reported are fair and stereotypical. Of the eight articles analysed, three articles provide evidence of stereotypes, sexist language and are inconsiderate to the victim. The reporters from The Star in their article “Witnesses damn her but the boys still face statutory rape” uses a hard hitting statement, that the witnesses “damn” the girl. This headline strongly supports the notion that the witnesses, who can provide evidence on the case, think that the girl is guilty. The headlines are discriminatory because they are centred on the girl and nothing is said about the boys

The 15 years old girl is labelled the “rape girl” by The Citizen newspaper. The identity as “rape girl” is unfair as it demonstrates how the media doesn’t take into consideration how the girl feels about the case. In addition, the blame is put on the girl yet, we are not sure who is to blame for the rape.

The Sunday Times headline, When rape is perceived as normal, society needs help takes a different angle on the mediation of the case. The headline captures the essence of the article that aims at raising awareness on rape and what is defined as “consensual sex between minors.” This headline informs the society that the fact that sex has been normalised is in itself a problem that should be given attention in society.

Of the eight articles analysed, 10 women and eight men are quoted as sources for this story. Both the men and the women are credible sources and represent organisations that deal with children and rape cases. From the women side they interviewed people such as Lizette Schoombi (a director of a child abuse organisation), Lisa Vetten from Tswaranang Legal Advocacy Centre (an organisation that promotes the rights of women to live free of violence and have access to adequate and appropriate services and Angie Motshekga (Basic Education Minister). On the men side they interviewed people such as Tlali Tlali (Spokesperson of the Department of Justice and National Prosecuting Authority) and Gert van Vuuren (School Principal). All these sources are reliable and are based placed to comment on the issue.

The witnesses are also interviewed. These are the boys and girls from Jules High School who are asked about the case. Although the students blame the girl for taking part in drinking alcohol and having sex, they are more worried about the reputation of the school. Their inclusion of their views can result in the girl being stigmatised at both the school and in society.


The language used in the articles places blame on the girl. In some of the newspaper articles analysed, there is continuous reference to the incident as one that was consensual, implying that the girl agreed to it. The newspapers also use the word rape and sex interchangeably which is wrong. This implies that the media is imparting wrong information to the readers. Insensitive phrases such as the girl was damned by her peers are used, “everyone called the girl ‘skhokho’ (she is the man)” as she was on top of the boys.

Visual images

The images illustrate good journalistic practice as they hide the identity of the pupils. The photographers try very hard to blur the boys’ faces and only show the girls’ feet to protect them. Different pictures are used when reporting on the case depending on what they are talking about. So it can be said that the visuals go hand in hand with the storyline.

Story angle and perspective

The pupils’ (witnesses) viewpoints are more important than any other in the articles. Most of the stories blame the girl and do not dwell much on what actually happened. The victim tried to explain what happened and how it came about that she was raped but the video given by the pupils who witnessed the rape supported the judgement made by the court. The judge’s ruling was that the girl agreed to the sex therefore she was also charged.

In most instances, rape victims should not be interviewed by the media unless they are prepared to do so. However, the girl was interviewed by The Star newspaper which could have contributed to the court ruling.
Statistics and research are used in some of the articles like ‘When rape is perceived as normal, society needs help” and these amount to fair and objective reporting.

Placement and positioning
The rape case story made it to the front pages of newspapers when it broke out. However, as time went on, the stories were placed inside the newspapers. It shows that the story slowly became insignificant and as a result it became another rape story.

Training exercise:

– Is the media part of the problem or part of the solution in ending gender based violence?
– If you were asked to report the case, how could your report been different from what we read in the newspapers?
– Develop guidelines on how journalists should report on rape.

Other training resources:
– Sex or rape? Something is terribly wrong,
– When violence becomes normal,
– Gender and Media Progress Study: South Africa, Chapter 5



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