Women, Media and the Law

In recent years there have been a number of women caught up in the justice system, not as perpetrators of crime as witnesses or victims in a court case, but as victims of the justice system itself, and of the media which reports on it. These cases are diverse in many ways, but the thread that binds them all together is that they all concern sexual behaviour and their perceived immorality, played out across the pages of the media with intimate details of their lives splayed out across double page spreads.

Unbeknownst to his comrades, Tommy Sheridan, the former leader of the Scottish Socialist Party had a penchant for sexclubs. When a tabloid newspaper published this information, in a heavily veiled fashion – rather than ignoring the allegations or even acknowledging them and asserting that they were none of anyone else’s business, he went for the nuclear option and sued the tabloid, on the basis of allegations that were true. He cited his comrades to whom he’d admitted his activities, demanding that they lied on the stand. They refused. In doing so the private lives of several women, became grist for the tabloid mill as he personally cross-examined them on the stand. Legally obliged to testify, legally obliged to be truthful they endured the indignity of their personal and sexual habits being relayed in open court with journalists hanging on every detail as he called them golddiggers, sluts, liars and nutters . Tommy Sheridan won his initial defamation action – but on the basis of lies and a misplaced sense of loyalty on the basis of some who testified for him, while the women who were abused in court and through a media who felt it quite appropriate to cast their eye over their sexual morality, were publically denigrated. The eventual conviction of Sheridan for perjury, while cathartic for some involved, dragged these women back to court for a second time, for futher tabloid pontification over their motives and morality. This horrible charade was all designed to protect Sheridan’s “right to a private life”.

Another man, another bout of sexual incontinence. Imogen Thompson had an affair with Ryan Giggs, a famous footballer. None of us might have known this, if Giggs hadn’t taken out a “superinjunction” – banning any mention of their affair, and even the mention that he had an injunction banning the mention of the affair.

Now, if…and it’s a huge if, because the evidence couldnt be reported on at the time, Thompson did attempt to blackmail Ryan, then clearly he was entitled to protection.   But here’s where it gets murky, she couldn’t respond to any allegations that he made of blackmail under the terms of injunction. The injunction was granted without Thompson being represented, or even notified of the hearing. While Ryan bought and paid for the full force of legal protection, even at one point attempting to sue twitter, she was hounded.  The tabloids went wild, while blacked out photos of “he who must not be named” was de rigour until the Sunday Herald bravely undermined the farce, her image – usually in sexualised poses – was plastered everywhere. The injunction gave no protection to Thompson, so the allegations cited by Ryan as evidence for the injunction – allegations which she had no opportunity to defend herself against were printed as fact – her reputation was slandered, as she became the quintessential slut, golddigger, homewrecker so beloved of our free press.

It now transpires that Ryan Giggs had no basis for accusing Thompson of blackmail, a fact that he now accepts.  Essentially he made the whole thing up as justification to “protect his private life”, while she was thrown to the snarling dogs of the tabloids.

And on now to more serious matters. When a unionised hotel worker in New York was raped by the head of the IMF while cleaning his room, it should have been an open and shut case. There was forensic evidence, she had the necessary support from her union and employers to have the strength to bring charges and the man had a prior history of sexual incontinence. While other allegations of rape and poor sexual behaviour have emerged of her rapist, it is Diallo who has borne the brunt of allegations of immorality, while his behaviour has become the subject of “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” jokes in national newspapers. Her immigration status, friendships and relationships – none of which have any bearing on whether or not she was the victim of a brutal assault – have all been picked over in great detail. Even her employment status has been sexualised, with consistent referrals to her employment as a “chambermaid” ( ie a woman who services bedrooms) rather than the considerably less sexualised term of cleaner, or hotel worker. Dominque on the other hand, despite a string of allegations coming out in the wake of this assault has been portrayed with sympathy and understanding, as the victim of the piece.

These aren’t the only cases of this kind. Almost every week in the tabloids you will see similar accounts of golddiggers, sluts, whores and homewreckers. It should be noted that of the three cases above, the only one which never saw the inside of a courtroom was the rape of a hotel worker. The protection of men’s private lives at the expense of those of their lovers private lives were both worthy of legal time and attention, Strauss Khan’s behaviour was not.

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