MP calls out SA newspaper over ‘disgraceful’ headline

State Labor MLC Justin Hanson has fiercely criticised The Advertiser over the headline on its front-page report on the Bruce Lehrmann trial last Saturday, saying it should not be tolerated by the community.

Oct 20, 2022, updated Oct 20, 2022
Labor MLC Justin Hanson says The Advertiser's front page was a sign of a troubling broader culture. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Labor MLC Justin Hanson says The Advertiser's front page was a sign of a troubling broader culture. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The Saturday Advertiser contained an extensive report on the trial of former political staffer Lehrmann, who is charged with raping Brittany Higgins at a ministerial office in Parliament House in Canberra.

The front page splash was headlined ‘The Rape Divide’, attracting immediate criticism from several prominent figures.

Hanson told the Upper House yesterday that he had been troubled by the tone of “some media coverage” of the Lehrmann trial, which he said suggested that it was “the accuser who is on trial, rather than the accused”.

“But just when I thought I couldn’t be shocked again, we get the headline from The Advertiser in our own town, here in Adelaide,” he said.

“The headline read ‘The Rape Divide’ — a pun… a pun with rape as its subject.

“Imagine being the sort of person who so fundamentally misunderstands the grave seriousness of rape that they’re prepared to make a joke about it on the front page of a major newspaper. There is an actual human and, quite possibly, a few actual humans who looked at that headline and thought: ‘Yeah, that’ll do.’

“This disgraceful attitude arises from deeply ingrained misogyny and from a very simple and very regrettable fact: we still don’t believe victims. It is more comfortable, apparently, to believe that women are liars first than to confront the fact that our culture has a sexual violence problem. It shouldn’t matter to the public whether the alleged victim has given a truthful account of events or not: that is not ours to determine — we have courts for that — but this does not stop sections of our media from weighing in.”

He said the kind of heading run by The Advertiser should not be tolerated.

“I don’t know which editor made the decision to run that Advertiser headline and I don’t know how many people gave it their tacit or explicit endorsement. I do know that we need to stop tolerating headlines and media coverage like that. I will not tolerate it, and if you are listening right now you shouldn’t tolerate it either.

“This is a timely moment for the Albanese Labor government in partnership with the states and the territories, all of them, to pledge to end violence against women and children within a generation. I commend my federal colleagues, particularly Minister Rishworth and the Prime Minister, for taking leadership in this matter. It is timely. Sadly, clearly, it is still necessary. And for The Advertiser, I look forward to the apology — and do better.”

The Advertiser’s heading attracted some criticism immediately after its publication, including from South Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and media personality and author Adam Spencer.

Seriously @theTiser this is a disgraceful front page. Rape isn’t a joking matter for stupid puns and pathetic headlines. Do better.

— ?? Sarah Hanson-Young (@sarahinthesen8) October 14, 2022

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Sweet f*cking mercy this is an awful headline

What part of a person thinks a “rape pun” is the way to go?

— The Spence (@adambspencer) October 15, 2022

InDaily has sought a response from The Advertiser.

A jury of eight women and four men is considering its verdict in Lehrmann’s trial.

He has pleaded not guilty and has faced an almost three-week-long trial in the ACT Supreme Court.

Higgin alleges Lehrmann sexually assaulted her inside the Parliament House office of former cabinet minister Linda Reynolds, for whom they worked as staffers, in 2019.

If this story has raised issues for you, call LifeLine on 13 11 14.

If you’ve experienced rape or sexual assault, Yarrow Place is a free and confidential service for people over 16 and offers counselling, advocacy and medical support.
Call 1800 817 421 or 8226 8777 or visit their website.

You can also call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732.

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