News media and popular culture in the United States have produced a conventional narrative of the outcomes of sexual abuse: someone perpetrates sexual violence, goes to trial, and is then punished with prison time. Survivors recede into the background, becoming minor characters in their own stories as intrepid prosecutors, police officers, and investigators gather evidence and build a case.
Leland G. Spencer explains how the stories we tell about sexual assault serve to reinforce rape culture, privileging criminal punishment over social justice and community-based responses to sexual violence. Examining a broad range of popular media, including news coverage of the Brock Turner case, Naomi Iizuka’s popular play Good Kids, the television program Criminal Minds, and the book turned television show 13 Reasons Why, Spencer demonstrates how these representations shore up the carceral state, perpetuate rape myths, blame victims, and excuse those who harm. While increased discussion about sexual violence represents feminist progress, these narratives assume that policing and prosecution are the only means of achieving justice, sidelining other potential avenues for confronting perpetrators and supporting victims.