Guest blog by Anneleise Hall
Formerly a reporter and sub-editor, Anneleise is a Sustainable Community Development Consultant, a Survivor and an Advocate.
An eruption of anger over the detailed exposure of Grace Millane’s sexual history, specifically in the context of somehow being contributory to a defence for the man found guilty of her murder, has sparked a wide range of criticism and some very good analysis.
I see it, on a deeper level, as further scrutinising and questioning the commodification of violence against women and scrutiny of social narratives that maintain certain power paradigms.
Dismay at the way the trial has been covered by some media has raised calls to look at what can be reported.
Unfortunately, it’s probably quite a hard thing to put rules around and enforce in balance with the transparency required of a robust justice system.
Rules aren’t a fix all for what is re-reported spuriously as it’s all on public record. The truly dedicated can still cherry-pick away.
With regards to mainstream media reporting, it really comes down to individual media organisation ethics and discernment reporting what are actual established facts, cctv, receipts, corroborated statements and ‘uncorroborated defence claims relying on the credibility of an individual for any relevance’ and how much context, weight and space is afforded.
I see the graphic and salacious reporting of Grace Millane’s former contacts and sexual history as an example of the commodification of violence against women.
I think the salaciousness is more obvious in this case because most of our big court cases are usually reported on by experienced long-term court reporters that contextualise evidence in what is presented to the public.
In this case it was a three ring circus that on some level seemed less about justice than a ‘commercial opportunity’ for some operators.
I keep thinking colosseum mentality.
This thing where apparently it’s a live action radio blog - bring popcorn - seems kind of dangerous.
Moving back to what should be reported on, if the media had not reported the defence at all and it had ended up working or being relevant then that would have looked like a failure of media to inform.
Unfortunately a lot of people feel grievously over-informed and there is a backlash against what many feel was invasive and gratuitous coverage, particularly in relation to Grace’s personal life prior to encountering the killer.
I think the key in this case is that particular defence should not have been allowed.
This is the narrative that reinforces a certain power paradigm of victim blaming and rape culture. Somehow her previous choices led up to the killer’s choice to kill her.
The judge could/should have dismissed anything previous to contact with the murderer as irrelevant.
Maybe a further look at the previous history of victims being inadmissible in sexual violence cases needs to include when sexual violence ends in murder unless there is specific relevance.
I don’t think controlling all the information is possible or desirable. However, one thing I do think is clear from the testimony and reactions is an urgent need to grow real understanding around consent and that being a moment by moment concept.
Part of why this has been so painful and triggering for many women (especially those who have lived through encounters with assailants) is many feel that the system revictimised, degraded and violated them in life the way it did Grace in death - and many still do not even have the satisfaction of conviction, some because of dubious defence tactics where they feel judged and smeared.
One of the killer’s previous dates talks about the moment during an encounter with him that she couldn’t breathe and feared for her life in testimony for the prosecution. We need to elevate these testimonies.
It is possible to consent, then not consent.
She texted him back but avoided him because she was afraid of him. Analyse these testimonies. This is the real narrative.
I’m also uncomfortable about this elevation of Grace to some sort of icon for or representation of feminine freedom. There are too many other dead invisible women who are not so newsworthy - but also eminently worthy of not being killed by a violent man.
I think we need a lot more of the great analysis and commentary from a wide range of voices. Encouraging more people to talk about what justice looks like and doing values checks on where our lines of decency are is a good thing.
In the end social licence is powerful and it’s committed people who drive change.