The savage murder of Sydney businessman Morgan Huxley devastated those who knew him. Discovered bleeding to death on his bedroom floor, Morgan had been stabbed more than 20 times, with his clothing pulled down, suggesting either a sexual assault or sexual activity had taken place shortly before his death. As his friends and family tried to process what had happened, a barrage of sensationalist news coverage delving into his private life and casting lurid aspersions over his final moments unfolded before their eyes.
Headlines like LADIES’ MAN MURDER put the spotlight firmly onto Morgan, rather than his killer. Interchangeable descriptions of “ladies’ man”, “known ladies’ man”, “playboy” and “Casanova” ran through a conveyor belt of articles which had little to do with finding his killer. There were claims he was involved with 14 women, and, without any tangible evidence, Murdoch’s Sunday Telegraph, and others, ploughed forward with the theory that a woman had killed him. While 9 news charmingly suggested a “booty call gone wrong”, the Telegraph favoured a spurned ex-lover, in the vein of “Hell hath no fury…”. Riddled with inaccuracies, alongside exaggerated and gory descriptions, the reporting carried a clear subtext that Morgan had died, not simply because a violent psychopath chose to attack him, but because his lifestyle was morally questionable. As it turned out, the newspapers’ theorising could not have been much further from what had actually happened.
So would things have been any different if the victim of this crime had been a woman?
In some ways, they could well have been the same. The tabloid press has long been known for its victim-blaming, particularly when those victims are female. A report, published in 2015, found the Australian press often reported cases of domestic violence in a ‘salacious’ and misleading way, shifting blame onto female victims of assault. A 2014 study of the British press drew similar conclusions, highlighting the ‘“virgin” or “vamp” dichotomy’ in which women deemed less than “virginal” were assigned greater blame in their attacks. This, again, seems to follow exactly along the lines of Morgan’s treatment by the press.
As well as the intense scrutiny of his private life, papers like Sydney’s Telegraph went for unabashed voyeurism when pondering whether he was killed during a sex act, with headlines like LOVED TO DEATH. A similar sexualisation has been found in British tabloid reporting of rapes against women. At the same time, cases of women attacking men have been found to receive disproportionate levels of press coverage, due to their perceived novelty value.
The message we hear constantly through the media, and elsewhere, is that men are aggressors and women are victims. An estimated 85 to 90% of violent crime is committed by men. But what is forgotten is that much of this violence is perpetrated not against women but against other men.
Men are almost twice as likely as women to fall victim to a violent crime. Over two thirds of all murder victims in the UK are male. Statistically, men are also more likely to be assaulted by a peer or a stranger, whereas women are more likely to be attacked by a partner or family member.
Because Morgan was murdered in his bed, there was an immediate assumption that he had been killed by an ex-girlfriend, or someone else he knew, who was there by invitation. As his case progressed, it became clear that this was a random attack. That Morgan had actually caught the eye of the killer while walking home alone, barefoot, after a night out drinking.
So where were the calls, following this revelation, for men to take care not to walk the streets alone at night? To not get drunk? It is not hard to conjure up the cacophony of possible headlines, if a woman had been stalked home and killed by a man who had spotted her walking alone and tipsy at 1am, with her stilettos over her shoulder. Alongside the inherent misogyny in so much tabloid victim-blaming that goes on, there is also an unwillingness to accept that men are vulnerable, just like women – statistically, sometimes more so. And this may even have played into the assumption by the press, Morgan had actively engaged with his killer, rather than being the sitting duck that he so clearly was.
Many male victims of sexual assault and domestic violence have reported feeling too ashamed to tell anyone, because they felt it made them less of a man or even because they were scared no one would believe them.
A key theory behind why we victim-blame is that, as human beings, we need to believe the world is inherently a fair place and if you behave in the “right” way, nothing bad will happen to you. At an unconscious level, people are searching for some act or omission by which the victim sealed their own fate, so that they can continue to feel safe themselves.
If a woman was raped, people can say it was because of how she was dressed or how much she drank or how she acted, and still feel sealed off what happened. Perhaps there was also a need to believe Morgan, as a man, could have done something differently to prevent his fate.
The harsh truth is, that no matter how you spin it, more often than not bad things happen to good people, and there’s nothing they can do about it.
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