"The American press that gave extensive coverage to the sexual assault of Iraq prisoners in Abu Ghraib portrayed the assailants, American male and female soldiers, as exceptional and outside the U.S. Army’s military culture and do not represent American society,” Professor Dubravka Zarkov stated at the lecture she gave at Mada al-Carmel on March 26, 2010.
Professor Zarkov was invited by Mada’s Gender Studies Program to give a lecture on the topic, “Exposures, Invisibilities, Vulnerabilities: Media Narratives of War and Masculinities in an Intersectional Perspective.” Her research focuses in part on media representation of gender, sex, and race in the context of war and violence.
The lecture was partly drawn from Professor Zarkov’s research on Serbian and Croatian press coverage during the course of the war in that region, in the years 1991-1995. She found a substantial difference between media coverage of sexual assaults committed against women compared with those against men: the Serbian press did not relate to sexual assaults of men at all, and Croatian media coverage of this issue was rare. For example, in 1992-1993, of 120 articles on violence during the war, 30 dealt with attacks against women, and only four involved male sexual assault. Zarkov argues that the lack of media coverage of sexual assault of men results from the desire not to harm the society’s masculine image.
In the case of Abu Ghraib, Zarkov found that, although the American press (The Washington Post and The New York Times) reported on sexual assaults perpetrated against Iraqi prisoners, it presented the abuse as bizarre and marginal, and not representative of American society. In reporting the matter in this way, the press attempted to portray American society as democratic and with lofty values. The portrayal of the victims states nothing about American society, but depicts Iraqis as weak.
Professor Zarkov also spoke about the views of the feminist movement in the Untied States on this issue. She pointed out three conceptions that the feminist movement holds in this context: one, a substantive view, dumbfounded by the ability of women to commit sex crimes; two, a conception that dealt with the repercussions of these crimes on American society; and, three, a view that related Iraqi males to African American males, ignoring the context of the war against Iraq, Islamophobia, and the history of racism in American society.