The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

Sexual Assault ≠ “Touching”

Trigger warning for sexual assault and graphic imagery

I know I should stop being shocked and disgusted by the abysmal media reporting of sexual assault. I also realise my disgust is probably the most wasted on Stuff.co.nz. But this story, titled “Nurse struck off for touching patients” just can’t be ignored.

How, in any stretch of the imagination, is it okay to headline this story about a nurse sexually assaulting three female patients when they were at their most vulnerable, their most defenceless, and their most in need of adept and empathetic care – “Nurse struck off for touching patients”.

Given that Stuff is often a quick browse for workers scanning the headlines and getting back to work, I would think that headlines should be indicative of the actual occurrence reported on.

Most of us will remember the “too PC” debates around the appropriateness of teachers touching children, and will have heard grossly embellished stories of male teachers being fired for hugging a crying child. At least, those are all things I have heard. I have little-to-no time for labelling anything “too PC” as I feel like that cry usually comes from people resenting having their unwavering sense of entitlement or ignorance eroded, but I remember the puzzled masses of the 90s, discussions between my mother and my teachers of things which they (righty or wrongly, through understanding or misunderstanding) felt restricted their ability to do their job. And a lot of it was around “touching”. The connotations of a nurse being “struck off” for “touching patients” is one of overreaction, harking to this “too PC” sore spot.

Except that this wasn’t an overreaction, and it wasn’t touching. It was repeat sexual assault. And it was a gross abuse of power. For stuff to title this story with something which implies an over-reaction is remiss and offensive. When I read the headline I thought ‘What? Surely there was some misconduct? People don’t get struck off for merely ‘touching’, I hope there wasn’t a misunderstanding.’ And I was ill-prepared and shocked to read an unmistakable case of repeat sexual violence.

I’m unsure what Stuff had to gain by naming this story anything other than “Nurse struck off for sexually assaulting patients”. I understand that Stuff relies on page views, so surely implying he did nothing but “touch” people would arguably get less hits than the (upsetting) draw that stories of sexual violence seem to hold over Stuff readers. Stories featuring sexual violence almost always feature in their ‘top stories’.

I am confused and upset by Stuff’s decision to allow the majority of (skim) readers to think that somewhere in New Zealand, a nurse was struck off for merely touching patents. I’m horrified that those who venture to read the whole story may get the message that sexual assault is able to be categorised as merely “touching” by some.

Imagine for a second that you are the parent or friend of the 16 year old girl this nurse assaulted. Imagine even, that you are the 16 year old girl who had just been in a car accident, and what it might be like to have a uniformed, glove-wearing person who is supposed to be looking after you touch your genitals while you lie (presumably injured and in shock) alone with him in the back of an ambulance. Imagine that you then read he was “stood down for touching” people, and what that must feel like. Because he didn’t just ‘touch’ you. He assaulted you.

Sexual assault isn’t sex. It isn’t touching. It isn’t fondling or groping or grabbing or grazing, it’s assault. It may take varying forms, but it’s still assault. Until we start calling sexual violence violence and recognising that unwanted touching is assault then we are continuing to allow survivors to be surrounded my messages that tell them what happened wasn’t really that bad. And right now that’s exactly what Stuff is doing.

4 responses to “Sexual Assault ≠ “Touching”

  1. LadyNews October 27, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    I was appalled by that word choice too. Utter fail. Obviously someone with some sense realised the major error: it now says “indecently assaulted” on the main page blurb, and “abuse” in the headline that appears on the main page. But I admit to clicking on the story when it just said “touching” and then thinking “holy crap, he did WHAT?!”. Hugely misleading.

  2. Curvaceous Dee November 2, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    Reading this a few days later (02 November) the headline is now ‘Nurse struck off for abuse of patients’. Which is somewhat more accurate.

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