and ain't I a woman: Racism won't fight rape

Issue 

Since the August 6 publication of a Daily Telegraph "special investigation" into "ethnic crime gangs", racist hysteria has been given considerable space in most sections of the Sydney corporate media. When on August 7, a young white woman was raped, identifying her three attackers as being "of Middle-Eastern appearance", the hysteria began to run the risk of encouraging the emergence of a lynch mob.

The Daily Telegraph's main intention seems to be to force the NSW government to back down on a decision not to let information about criminal offenders' country of origin or their parents' country of origin, to be collected.

The decision not to collect the data comes as a result of protests by the Community Relations Council (previously named the Ethnic Communities Council), which fears that it may result in US-style "racial profiling" by police.

In the United States, young black men face daily harassment by police. This harassment is justified, police say, because black men are overrepresented in convictions for drug and property crime.

Reporting the rape on August 10, the Daily Telegraph asserted that "The incident is one of more than 50 similar criminal attacks in the Bankstown region during the last two years ... Increases have also been posted in surrounding areas, with pack rapes of Caucasian teenagers by groups of Middle Eastern men contributing to the rise."

In its daily coverage of the "ethnic gang crisis", the newspaper has consistently linked sexual abuse statistics in Sydney's south-west with anecdotal evidence of a wave of "Middle Eastern" pack rapists.

The newspaper's statistics also keep changing. On August 6, it reported just 30 pack rapes in two years; by August 17, it was 70.

The hysteria has been supported by "secret" interviews with anonymous "victims" — although none of the interviewees speak about suffering sexual violence.

On August 8, the newspaper interviewed "Danni", who was allegedly robbed by "eight Lebanese girls". Her comment: "I was labeled a slut because I was an Aussie".

The rest of the mainstream media eagerly picked up the Daily Telegraph's coverage — directly resulting in a wave of threatened violence against Muslims living in Sydney's southwest.

Two girls' schools have reported callers threatening rape against their students, and mosques have received bomb threats. Muslim women have also reported a significant increase in harassment on the street.

On August 16, radio shock jock John Laws dedicated his 2UE radio talkback program to the rapes. One caller asked why "they" didn't attack "their own women". Laws replied that "That's a good question. I think they're all covered up aren't they — you can't get to them".

These comments reflect common sexist stereotypes — women are the property of men, and rape is a consequence of what women wear — as well as a particularly nasty "us whites" versus "them Muslims" racism. They directly contribute to a mentality that it is okay for white men to "retaliate" by sexually assaulting Muslim, or Middle Eastern, women.

Rape in Australia is a serious and underestimated crime. One in 10 women will be raped in the course of their life. According to the Bureau of Statistics, only one-third of all rapes are reported to the police.

Seventy-five percent of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim — 46% by the victim's partner or close friend. Rape occurs in 7-12% of marriages.

But neither the Daily Telegraph, nor John Laws, has ever run an expose on date rape or rape in marriage. They do not seem to be interested in fighting the abuse of all women, just the abuse of "our" women by "them". They view the crime as being perpetrated against white society, not the women who suffer rape.

This is the same attitude that lay behind the mass lynchings of black men in southern USA after the American civil war. While black women had suffered rape at the hands of white slave-owners for hundreds of years with no protest, black men were lynched for looking at a white woman "the wrong way".

No woman — Christian, Muslim, white or not — is immune from rape. Sexual violence in this society is justified because women are still viewed as male property, with little rights over their own bodies. Fighting rape involves challenging these perceptions.

The Daily Telegraph and John Laws are doing anything but. Instead, they are deliberately using women's horrific experiences to justify racism against Muslims.

By attempting, on little evidence, to convince the public that Muslim men are deliberately raping white women, they actually obscure the real causes of rape — sexist ideas, and attitudes towards women.

Laws, and the Daily Telegraph, have yet to condemn the threats of rape that have been made against Muslim women.

In the meantime, feminist organisations in Bankstown are organising self-defence and confidence classes for all women. These are efforts we should support, as well as the organisation of feminist marches such as International Womens Day and Reclaim the Night in the western suburbs.

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