Passive voice watch: invisible rapist in Sussex

The Beeb has got a nasty case of the Invisible Rapists today, in this report: “Teenager is raped in club toilets”.

A 19-year-old woman was raped in the men’s toilets in a nightclub, Sussex Police revealed.

The teenager was attacked at the Digital club, Kings Road Arches, Brighton, in the early hours on Wednesday, detectives said.

The victim, who lives in the city, was sexually assaulted in the male toilets on the ground floor.

Officers said the suspect was described as being white and in his mid-20s. They have asked witnesses to contact them.

We get all the way to paragraph four before the rapist makes an appearance – oh, but wait, he’s not even a rapist, he’s a “suspect”. They have no trouble saying that the woman was raped, but there wasn’t an actual – shhhh! rapist involved.

More here.

Categories: gender & feminism, language, violence

12 replies

  1. After someone on a previous thread mentioned the “was raped by elves” technique for emphasising the use of the passive, I find reading these angry-making stories … well, at least interesting, though not less angry-making.

  2. Suspect? Lies! She probably raped herself, you know what women are like. *headdesk*
    “Raped by elves” sums up this technique pretty well.

  3. Look at those first three pars: each begins with a different term for the woman, positing her each time as the active subject of the incident, and of the sentence: ‘A 19-year-old woman’, ‘The teenager’, ‘The victim’.
    Babelelf translation:
    ‘Elves raped a 19-year-old woman in the men’s toilets in a nightclub, Sussex police revealed.
    The elves attacked the teenager at the Digital club, Kings Road Arches, Brighton, in the early hours of Wednesday, police said.
    The elves sexually assaulted the victim, who lives in the city, in the male toilets on the ground floor.’

  4. Using the word suspect can be fine, depending on how it is used. I really don’t think it means she raped herself. It’s saying that he is the person suspected of doing it.
    Since our legal system is “innocent until proven guilty” he’s still a suspect. Sadly not everyone is treated this way. We don’t know yet if he was a rapist. “Suspected rapist” might work as well.

  5. By “our legal system” I meant the USA’s system, I’m guessing England’s system is the same idea.

  6. Usually all crime reports are written as passive as possible to avoid identifying anyone. I happen to write a lot of them.

  7. Unfortunately, there’s a culture around rape in our society that means using the passive voice has a different effect than using the passive voice for other crimes. When you use the passive voice in a robbery, it has no underlying social structure of victim blaming that your language is playing off of.
    Yet another example of the “you can treat everyone exactly the same and easily be discriminating against women for it,” which, so we’re clear, is a result of the patriarchy and not of feminism.

  8. “Using the word suspect can be fine, depending on how it is used. I really don’t think it means she raped herself. It’s saying that he is the person suspected of doing it.”
    Brad, that’s a load of codswallop. There is no “he” – the article says the rapist (or the “suspect” as they’re calling him) is “white and in his mid-20s”. How on earth do you reckon that’s going to identify someone specific? There’s no specific suspect, in which case I could understand them using the word – for example if they’d taken a specific man into custody – there’s a description of the rapist, presumably from the woman he raped. White and mid-20s. Non-identifying.

  9. The operative phrase here is ‘depending on how it is used’. Here, ‘suspect’ is just completely inaccurate. There is no suspect here. There is no specific man, or group of men, whom the police suspect. There is a rape victim, and therefore a rapist.
    In this case, the article accepts (for the purpose of reporting, at least) that the woman was raped. It just shies away from using the word ‘rapist’ which is only as presumptive as using ‘rape victim’.
    There would have been nothing wrong with the article saying ‘the victim described her rapist as being white and mid twenties’, as an alternative.

  10. I’m with rainne. Maybe if the phrasing were, “the man suspected of being the rapist” it would be better, because there’d be explicit acknowledgement that a rapist exists.
    On the other hand, this would involve not pretending that the person at fault is the victim.

  11. Agreed — other articles written in the passive voice at least use words like “gunman” when someone has been shot.

  12. Also agreed. The use of “suspect” when no actual suspect has been identified takes the article from stating that “something happened to a woman” (when it should be “someone/man did something to a woman”) to implying that “something might have happened to a woman.” It injects the idea of doubt into the article when there is no reason for it be there – since there is no actual suspect that needs to be considered innocent until proven otherwise by a court of law.

%d bloggers like this: