Deconstructing the house that Jack built: an examination of the discursive regime of sexual murder
Deconstructing the House that Jack Built: An examination of the discursive regime of sexual murder Jack the Ripper has been described as the 'archetypal rapist' (Frayling 1986), a killer who committed what seemed like 'the ultimate rape' (Marriner 1992), yet he raped no-one. The mutilation and disembowelment of his victims is analogised as rape. This violence was murder, not any legally defined form of sexual assault. This is an aspect to these crimes that is given little, if any attention. Rape is a real social problem and the high attrition rate this offence attracts is the subject of much concern and research interest. A key problem highlighted in previous research has been the skewed public and criminal justice perception of what constitutes a 'real rape' (Kelly et al. 2005). To analogise disembowelment as rape creates or indicates a very skewed perception of the offence. This research proposes that the offences of rape and murder, when they are committed against women by men, have in some contexts become culturally conflated. The key aims are to examine to what extent the discourse of sexual murder produces a conflation, whether the meaning made of the violence in the discourse is used to rationalise other forms of violence against women by men and what the effect of a conflation could be for women and for the criminal justice system. Multiple methods were used, to extract data across three key institutional sites, under three headings - cultural representation, news reporting and police operational practice and include data obtained from examination of news reports of the rape and/or murder of women, Jack the Ripper film/TV and interviews with police from a serious crime team. All data was analysed using the unifying theoretical framework of Foucauldian discourse analysis. It was found that in some contexts the conflation exists and has real effect. There are five key findings: firstly that perceptions of what constitutes a 'real rape' are more closely aligned to a potential sexual murder than a legally defined or aggravated rape; secondly it was found that murders of women are routinely gendered and sexualised by both the media and the police which powerfully links fatal or potentially fatal violence with sexual assault and vice versa; thirdly it was found that because of the symbolic value of rape, murders of women can be and are considered, in some circumstances to be 'virtual rapes', which links closely to the fourth observation that indicates that instead of understanding rape as a form of violence, we can understand violence against women as a form of rape; finally, it was found that fear of rape could realistically be associated with fear of death because of the meaning made of rape in sexual murder discourse and this could have significant repercussions for those women experiencing a rape assault, those women who fear rape assaults, those who deal with victims of rape and the prosecution of rape and murder in the criminal justice system.