Right-wing press jumps on opportunity to condemn women who have casual/non-vanilla sex

// 2 December 2007

The British student Meredith Kercher was sexually assaulted and murdered while studying in Italy. The story, which is quite sensational, has been avidly reported in the media.

Now, I hesitate before posting about this – there can be no doubt that a serious crime was committed. But it’s also worrying that the press has grabbed onto the case as an opportunity to push a retrogressive sexual ‘morality’, culminating, for me, in this horrifying column in The Times, by a man who was acquitted of raping his girlfriend.

Sean Thomas says:

Like all addicts, we ended up in trouble. One night I strolled around to see ****** and we did our thing. I clamped my hand over her mouth and she reached orgasm. I shouted at her. She bit me. This was fairly normal for us. Abnormal for many. Then, for some reason, I felt a sudden revulsion at what I was doing, at my addiction. She started crying. I told her I’d met someone else, picked up my jacket and walked out, arrogant, cruel and whistling.

Three hours later I was arrested on a rape charge. I spent two months on remand in jail, then I was bailed to my family home. A year later I went for my trial at the Old Bailey. At the end the jury retired for two hours and the verdict was unanimous: not guilty.

Thomas has been found not guilty, so let’s be clear: I’m not suggesting anything else. However, it is profoundly disturbing that he has been given room in a national newspaper to describe what happened in this way, and name the woman involved. I think this may actually be contempt of court.

It gets more uncomfortable still:

These days, anyone who says that orgies or buggery or bondage is wrong risks looking a prude. Nowadays, all forms of sex, short of paedophilia, are regarded as part of the fun – and no one wants to be the party pooper.

What Thomas is doing here is using Kercher’s murder to justify a mini-rant about how consensual sex is morally wrong, and only one step away from rape. Which, girls and boys, I don’t need to say is total clap-trap.

Unfortunately, the right-wing press has more to offer on this subject, not least in this profile of one of the suspects, dubbed ‘Foxy Knoxy’, in the Daily Mail. For a start, the profile is of the female suspect. Unless I missed it, the male suspect has not been subject to the same kind of scrutiny of his sex life.

Again, it is worth pointing out that she is a suspect in a murder trial. If she was guilty, she was undoubtedly a deeply disturbed woman. But the Daily Mail skirts some dangerous territory, saying that the fact she slept with lots of people was a natural lead up to the murder – if, of course, she did it.

If you click through, you will see that the profile is illustrated with a grainy photo of Knox kissing her boyfriend.

The Mail’s case against Knox largely revolves around an account of a party that got out of hand:

It was, according to one party guest, “bedlam, with drink, drugs and bodies everywhere.

“Some people were naked inside the bedrooms.

“There were people draped over each other.

“I’ve been to a lot of student parties in my time, but I’ve never been to a party like that.

“Everyone just wanted to get drunk, get high and get laid. There was also a lot of violence because everyone was so pumped up.”

I’ve got to say, apart from the non-specified violence, I’m not exactly sure what there is to get so het up about – students having sex? Drinking? Taking drugs? OK, that last one is illegal, but hardly unusual.

Knox partied hard, if the Mail’s account is accurate. But she also kept up academically. The Mail interprets this as her living “a double life”.

She also developed a deep, abiding desire for casual sex.

“She was – how can I put it – very friendly, outgoing and bubbly to all men she came into contact with,” said Philip Setran, a medical student, who shared a dormitory with Amanda.

“She had what in polite terms you’d call a lot of close male friends.”

Others were more blunt, calling her a “man-eater”.

I can’t help but feel that the Daily Mail has lept on an opportunity presented by the case to condemn this specific woman for liking sex outside of stable relationships, and portray all women who like casual sex as disturbed. She is a perfect target for being labelled as a “slut” because she’s a suspect in a murder and sexual assault – who cares what the tabloids call her?

It seems like there is plenty to criticise her for, such as this detail, buried near the bottom of the profile:

First, she posted a story on her MySpace page about how a young man drugs and rapes a young woman after remarking that “chicks just don’t know what they want”.

Even here, this seems to be a bit of erotic fiction. Worrying in the light of the crime she is suspected of, but in and of itself, perhaps not such a big deal.

In short, the case has opened up an excellent opportunity for both the Daily Mail and The Times to condemn sexual practices outside of their missionary position, one man, one woman sphere of comfort. It’s exploitative and cheap.

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