Here is my final script with accompanying slides.


Introduction – SLIDE 2

Shannon Ridgway states that the term Rape Culture refers to the ingrained cultural practices of our society that excuse, or otherwise tolerate sexual violence. It is used to talk about how collectively we think about rape.

This can manifest itself in a situation as people ignoring, trivialising, normalizing or joking about the subject of rape. (Everyday Feminism 2014)

Photography is an incredibly influential force in our society, and can influence rape cultures prevalence within it. I want to discuss the potential problematic discourse around the representation of women and rape culture through photography.

Media and Advertising – SLIDE 3

There is a long-standing relationship between commercial photography and sexism, with just two examples shown here. The objectification and humiliation of the woman in the Mr. Leggs advert is painfully apparent, with her being treated like a piece of decoration under the submission and will of the man. With the Broomsticks Slacks Advert, it is conveying a much darker message. The way the men are grabbing at the woman conjures thoughts of non consent, while the message below ‘Ring around Rosie, Or Carol, Or Eleanor, etc.’ suggests that the women you play this ‘game’ with are so unimportant that it doesn’t matter what their name is, or that it’s even worth learning it, so long as you as the consumer are getting what you want.
The way the models are being treated in these adverts reinforces a negative view of how it is deemed acceptable to treat women.

And despite the age of these adverts, the same imagery is still appearing in modern day advertisements, with similar, if not more so, sinister undertones.
Similar to the 1964 Mr Leggs Slacks Advert, the women in this advertisement is being treated as an object, another piece of furniture, and in the process is being dehumanised.

This is not an uncommon act in photography that is used for public platforms.

The animal rights group PETA has been widely criticised by feminists, and the media, for their sexist depictions of women, comparing them to animals and ‘pieces of meat’. The female body is being used to make a point, and in doing so they are being degraded to less than human.

While PETA and Details both have different motives for these adverts, they both play on the notion that women are objects, to be used and sexualised, as deemed necessary. They are reinforcing the complacency and acceptance of dehumanising imagery that perpetrates rape culture in society.

The Dolce and Gabbana Advert has strong parallels to the Broomsticks Slacks advert of 1967, both containing an obvious sexual element. The body language of this image is what makes this one particularly distressing. The men surrounding the woman are in dominant poses, with one pinning her to the floor, while the woman’s face is turned away from her aggressor, her legs tightly shut and her hips in a movement not dissimilar to an attempt to struggle. This body language gives all the cues of a non-consensual assault.
The moment captured in this advert is being sexualised and portrayed as a positive scenario, shown by the fact that this image is intended to make you want to buy a product.

And this isn’t the only time rape has been used as an aesthetic in commercial photography.



This image is from the fashion shoot ‘Wrong Turn’, by Raj Shetye. While not necessarily dissimilar to the Dolce & Gabbana picture, this more recent ad caused controversy based on the fact that it is inspired by the real event of the Gang Rape and murder of a young woman, on a bus in Delhi in 2012.
Raj Shetye has attempted to defend the shoot with multiple different excuses, for instance that ‘he’s putting a spotlight on the issue of violence against women; that he’s criticizing India’s caste system; the list goes on.’ (Bustle 2014) However, the problem with these arguments is that the violence in this photo, like the others shown in this presentation, is sexualised and geared towards the audience as an attractive and positive thing.

The men and women in these photographs are the societal concepts of the perfect man and woman, and created to look appealing to the target demographics. Instead of bringing the trauma of violence and rape to light, it is instead reinforcing rape culture in our society by glamourising it.
This behaviour does not just have a negative affect on woman. The article, ‘What Advertisements directed towards men are selling’, says that ‘we are regularly bombarded with messages selling the idea that masculinity is violent, physically aggressive and sexually domineering and that anger and stoic toughness are the only appropriate emotions for men to display.’ (Everyday Feminism 2013)

The regular display in photographs of Hyper-masculinity creates a dangerous link between sex and aggression that is reinforced as positive again and again by the constant streaming of images through mainstream media.


The glamourisation of violence and rape isn’t the only problem we face in our society from advertisements. This advert from Belvedere has instead decided to take the route of making a joke out of raping someone, deriving humour from the notion that the victim will attempt to fight back. Unlike the other photographs in this presentation, this image is probably the closest to a accurate portrayal of an attempted rape, the blurriness of the image adding a level of realism to the scenario. The viewer may look at this and laugh at the ‘joke’, considering it a harmless piece of fun. But it further normalises and excuses rape in our society, making the subject a punch line, instead of a serious issue that causes significant trauma and harm to survivors.

All the advertisements shown in this presentation are not accurate representations of rape. They are sexualised, glamourised and made humourous with the intention of selling a product, and with the high saturation of advertisements and photographs on public platforms, it is normalising the false representation of what rape is.

Real Rape Photos – SLIDE 9

This photo was widely circulated on social media; it is of the unconscious body of the girl who was repeatedly gang raped in Steubenville. The photograph was actually posted by the perpetrators, showing her off in a manner that conjures imagery of how hunters hold their kill, with complete disregard and lack of respect for the victim. You can instantly tell a difference between this photo and the commercial photographs shown in previous slides, because real rape is not an entirely sexual crime, it’s a violent one. The victim here has been pixelated by authorities to protect her, which actually lends to the viewer being aware that this is a real human being who has suffered, and needs to be protected because of that. It’s not easy as the viewer to separate yourself from the connotations of this photograph, because unlike the advertisements, it’s a glimpse into the true horrors of rape.

Laurie Penny, for the New Statesman, called the Steubenville case ‘Rape Cultures Abu Ghraib moment, saying ‘It’s the moment when America and the world are being forced, despite ourselves, to confront the real human horror of the rapes and sexual assaults that take place in their thousands every day in our communities.’ (New Statesman 2013) She draws further comparisons, explaining, ‘Here we have incontrovertible evidence of happy young people not only hurting and humiliating others, but taking pleasure in it, posing with their victims. The Abu Ghraib torture pictures were trophies. The Steubenville rape photos are trophies. They’re mementoes of what must have felt, at the time, like everyone was having the sort of fun they’d want to remember, the sort of fun they’d want to prove to themselves and others later.’ (New Statesman 2013)

Despite the accurate comparison being made here between two violent events, this photograph is an incredibly rare thing to see, the only one to still be found online, while the Abu Ghraib photographs are still widely available.



Photographs of wars, violence and death are easy to find and are circulated as a way to draw attention to the atrocity of what happened; yet you do not see the same with rape.

Ariella Azoulay, photography theorist and Author of the Civil Contract of Photography, suggests this is because we do not consider rape a violent act, but a sexual one, and the taboo of speaking about it is heavily ingrained in our society. She explains that, ‘rape is not in principle devoid of image – the public gaze on image of rape is what’s missing.’ (Azoulay 2008: 251) The reasons usually given for the absence of rape images revolve around saving the victim further humiliation and a concern for the sexual connotations of the image to lead them to be used for pornographic use by disturbed individuals. However, Azoulay argues that ‘both assume that it is not a matter of violence employed against an ordinary citizen, causing her injury. Both thus make manifest the sexual aspect of rape and the normative system involved in it. Both reasons imply that it is impossible to rid rape of its sexual aspect, and both assume that exhibiting the image intensifies this aspect …’ (Azoulay 2008: 254)

The advertisements we are subjected to in everyday society reinforce the sexual aspect of rape while ignoring the violence of the act. With no societal gaze of actual images of sexual violence we are a receiving a one sided distortion that reinforces rape culture by normalising and sexualising rape.

Azoulay describes this societal view as ‘an unwritten prohibition on showing ‘real’ images of rape’, while, ‘’staged’ rape images are freely shown…’. (Azoulay 2008: 276)

This is supported by the few instances of ‘real’ rape photographs and their invisibility and lack of circulation in the public eye.

Nanking – SLIDE 12


In 1937, during World War 2, Japanese forces moved into the Chinese City Nanking, and over the course of six weeks murdered half the population and raped anywhere between 30-80,000 women and children, killing many of their victims after the act. (History Date 2000)




The soldiers photographed the atrocities they committed, making Nanking one of the rare photographic documentations of rape available to the public. These photographs highlight the violence and dehumanisation victims of rape are subjected to. They are upsetting for the viewer, as the graphic nature and knowledge of what they are viewing drastically contrasts what is considered socially acceptable to view in our society in regards to rape.



The photographs from Nanking are photographically similar to the images from the concentration camps such as Auschwitz. Yet these images are not circulated or discussed in the general public like the holocaust photographs, which could be considered to be purely because of the ingrained aversion in our society to discussing rape.

Fred Ritchin argues that we as a society are oversaturated with images of violence, and have therefore become desensitised to them. (Archive 2013)

With this in mind, even if we can distinguish rape as a violent crime rather than a sexual one, would it have a negative affect if we pushed realistic images of rape into the public spotlight?

Azoulay argues that, ‘Breaking the taboo on showing images of rape will challenge the clear demarcation between images that are allowed to be shown and those that are not – the line of demarcation that distinguishes rape from the other horrors that afflict humanity and preserves women as the exception to the rule.’ (Azoulay 2008: 281)

With the potential discourse that could arise from showing rape photographs, some photographers are considering ways to bring rape forward into public view.

Project Unbreakable – SLIDE 15

Project Unbreakable is a project by photography student Grace Brown, which began back in 2011. She explained in an interview with Huffington Post, ‘I created project unbreakable as a way of spreading awareness to an issue that isn’t talked about anywhere near as much as it should be’. (Huffington 2012)



Since then, the project has gathered noticeable headway; being featured in media outlets such a Glamour, Time, and The Guardian.

Brown has photographed over 600 survivors (Project Unbreakable 2015) while the addition of an option for survivors to submit their own photographs has extended its reach worldwide, with the projects Tumblr having a 3-5 month backlog of photo submissions from participants.



The photographs are intended to shed light on the trauma victims of sexual abuse face, both during and after the crime.

The combination of words and photos is what makes the project so powerful. When you use photographs you make it harder for the viewer to dissociate themself from the subject. It makes it more real and emotive when you can place a person within the context of the experience being described.

By letting the subject have control over what they write and how they appear in the photo, you are giving power back to victims who may feel like their power and control was taken from them. While the high proportion of submissions combats the trivialization of rape that is common within rape culture, the nature of how they are drawing light to the victims experiences forces a public gaze onto the issue, combatting the discourse of real rape images being suppressed while sexualized rape moments are not.

It is necessary to bring an accurate representation of rape to the forefront of public view to combat the problematic discourse of rape cultures representation that is consistently reinforced through mainstream advertisements. However there is a potential problem with oversaturating society with images of the moment of rape, further desensitising the population to the horrific nature of the act.

Grace Brown offers a solution to this by creating a platform for survivors to have control over revealing the realities of their experience without taking advantage or increasing the trauma for the victim. While it is not necessarily the only answer, it does begin to address some of the issues discussed while having the positive affect of letting rape survivors be the voice of their own experiences.


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