Sexual Assault in Media

Steffica Warwick:

The world is a complex place, and the influence of the media in its representation and its power of communication and interpretation is a remarkable amplifier of emotions, and of illusions. – Tariq Ramadan

The way that sexual assault is portrayed in the news is also significant. Before the explosive global prevalence of the World Wide Web, reports of violence against women were rarely reported. Nowadays, in the modern age, abuses against women are reported almost daily in the media. In both cases, it is perceived by the public as so common that either it is not worth reporting, or that people become ambivalent to the surge of stories about violence against women. It becomes seen as a natural way of life.

The correlation between the sexualised way that women are presented in the media, compared to their other depiction as victims, is also noteworthy. One North American journalist wrote of visiting Peru:

―I was wandering around a main street in Lima and perusing the newspaper stands, when a front page caught my eye. It was a tabloid, and on one side of the page there was the ubiquitous picture of a semi-clad woman. On the other side of the page, there was another graphic image of a naked woman, except she was dead, in a ditch after being raped.

And I asked myself the question…”Is there cause and effect?” It reminded me what can be dismissed as casual sexism can potentially have very serious consequences.

The media‘s presentation of females as either sex objects or victims is problematic. It sets expectations for what girls can grow up to aspire to, and what boys can grow up to expect from women. It also exhibits a sinister glamourisation of sex and violence, normalising instances of sexual violence.

The advertising industry is also an example of the trivialisation of sexual violence in the media. In one campaign for Skol, a popular alcoholic drink, an advertisement with the strapline ―I forgot ‘no’ at home was released, just before the nation‘s national party event, Carnival. During carnival, reports of sexual assault typically peak as the alcohol fueled environment promotes free behaviour. The advertisement received a wave of complaints, and a photo of two girls by the strapline ―I brought my ‘never’ went viral in revolt. However, Brazil‘s $10b advertising industry continues to use sex as a method of selling products and services, and as a byproduct, disseminating dangerous messages which promote sexual violence.

However, perhaps the biggest perpetrator of perpetuating sexual violence is the music industry, and there are a plethora of examples to support this claim. In Jiggy Drama‘s Contra La Pared music video, the Colombian rapper poses as a police officer and orders all the women at a house party to stand against the wall.

―We‘re going to search you all, you know, he says in Spanish with a laugh. He brandishes the police baton at one woman. ―Si sigues en esa actitud voy a violarte hey he raps, translating to: ―If you keep up with that attitude, I‘m going to violate you.

Similarly, ―La Groupie‖ by De La Ghetto featuring Ñejo, Luigi 21 Plus, Nicky Jam & Ñengo Flow employs lyrics which are sexually threatening to women. The song goes, ―Darte como una perracomo una cualquierajalarte por el peloagarrarte porel suelousarte como escobaaulla como loba. This translates to,

―Hit you like a dog, like a tramp (or anyone), pull you by your hair, grab you by the floor, use you like a broom, howl like a wolf.

The lyrics perpetuate the rhetoric of machismo, where the male dominates the latina female, comparing her to an animal and violently controlling her body.

These are not underground artists who receive little attention. They are well-established, well paid musicians at the top of their game in the industry, whose songs are played on television, radio, throughout shops and in the street, and their messages are being absorbed by the whole region.

To demonstrate just how graphically violent some reggaeton lyrics are, Alejandra Hernandez, a Colombian graphic design student at Bogota’s Panamerican University, has used art to depict some of the messages in reggaeton lyrics. In a campaign called ‘Use reason, make sure music does not degrade your status. ‘

She uses photography to stage the scenes of violence described in reggaeton lyrics and pastes the lyrics over them. For example, one photograph shows a man standing over a beaten and bruised woman in the kitchen with what appears to be an iron rod, to depict the Raga & Mackie Yanks lyric, ―Enla cocina voy a darte table‖ or ―I’m going to beat you on the kitchen table‖. Another is captioned ―ellale gusta que le den duro y se la coman or ―she likes to be hit hard and eaten‖, showing a woman being literally eaten alive by a man.

Reggaeton lyrics can be compared to hip hop music typically produced in the United States, which is often criticised for its violent and sexist lyrics about women. However, the difference lies in the prevalence of the reggaeton music in Latin American society. Walking through the streets of Colombia, Bolivia, Guatemala or most countries in the region, reggaeton can be heard from cars on the street, in buses, in shops and other public spaces. 

As Bernadette Marie Calafell writes, reggaeton is not just a genre of music but a way of life which unites Latin American people. The unfortunate thing, is that whereas the genre captures the ideas and feelings of the people, it also proliferates messages about gender roles which are damaging for consumers. 

Unless the core messages are changed, the media, and in particular the music industry, serve as a barrier to the progress of gender equality and violence against females.

(Article extracted by Dr. Christina Sisti)

This article is reproduced from SAFIGI’s website, which is originally extracted from the Research paper titled ‘Silent Voices: Violence against the female body as a consequence of machismo’  in Chapter 4 of the Safety Report by SAFIGI Outreach Foundation ‘Safety First for Girls’.

Steffica works for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at the British Embassy in Laos. Previously, she worked at the Open Data Institute in London. She volunteers as Editor for Safety First for Girls, and is passionate about education and gender equality. You can tweet her @StefficaWarwick


The Safety Report by SAFIGI is a two-fold Open research on ‘Core Issues Affecting Safety of Girls in the Developing World.’ The first part of the Safety Report is a Research Paper. The second part is a detailed Data Analysis.

The Safety Report Research paper is titled: ‘Core Issues Affecting Safety of Girls in the Developing World.’ The paper starts with an abstract before focusing on subjects in the key regions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. A total of 7 Research papers make up the safety Report (sans the introduction and conclusion), including:

  • The psychological effect of mass sexual harassment on girls in Egypt (P.24) by Heba Elasiouty.
  • Safety concerns in relation to social media: Growing up female in an increasingly digital world (P.45) by Karin Temperley.
  • Psychosocial challenges faced by parents raising children with physical disabilities in Oshana region (P.68) by Misumbi Shikaputo.
  • Gender-based violence and subsequent safety challenges experienced by Rohingya women (P.119) by Shucheesmita Simonti.
  • LGBT policies and overall safety in Brazil (P.141) by Alinne Lopes Gomes.
  • Silent voices‘: Violence against the female body as consequence of machismo culture (P.177)  by Steffica Warwick.
  • America‘s Public Policy on Sexuality: The Repression of Girls in Vulnerable Populations (P.208) by Dr. Christina Sisti.

The Safety Report Data Analysis is titled: ‘Core Issues Affecting Safety of Girls. Results and Outcomes based on Zambia, Egypt, USA, Tanzania, South Sudan, and Namibia.

SAFIGI Outreach Foundation Ltd, a volunteer-based and youth led NGO registered in Zambia, implemented the Safety Report in order to understand the multifaceted concept of safety and how it applies to the female gender in diverse settings. And therefore, further prove safety is intrinsic, and that vices in society stem from an intimate level of the human being before its manifestation. This way, when we create safety solutions, whether it be in a developing nation, conflict zone, refugee camp, or patriarchal society, the problem is resolved from a deeply rooted cause. Such that, we treat the disease itself and not mere symptoms.

This study is as a result of collaborative effort pursued in the spirit of volunteerism via UN Online Volunteers.

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