'It was the beer'

the discursive function of alcohol in representations of sexual violence

Deb Waterhouse-Watson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract

Alcohol is cited with increasing frequency as a factor in discussions of violence, from brawling and knife-fighting on the streets of Melbourne, to cases of alleged sexual assault involving elite footballers, which are regularly reported in the Australian media. Media commentators tend to presume that the link between excessive alcohol consumption and interpersonal violence is self-evident, despite the fact that studies indicate the connection to be more about one's perception of alcohol's effects, rather than measurable, physiological ones. However, no scholar or commentator has yet considered the discursive function of alcohol in media reports of sexual and other violence, and the role of discourse in diminishing the responsibility attributed to a perpetrator for acts of violence. This chapter explores how language is used to diminish responsibility in media representations of violent crime, deflecting it onto alcohol. Through the examination of media reports and analyses of sexual assault cases from Australia's principal elite football codes, I demonstrate that alcohol is used in narratives of the cases to deflect blame away from the accused players, and diminish their responsibility for their actions. Through close examination of grammar and syntax, I show that drinking alcohol is frequently portrayed as a context or situation in which problems can occur, sometimes a situation created by footballers, but more frequently by unmarked agents. Alcohol itself can also appear as a causative agent, whether implicitly or explicitly, further exonerating players from blame for their behaviour. This naturalises and thus potentially reinforces the popular perception of alcohol as a "cause" of sexual and other violence.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFuture directions in applied linguistics
Subtitle of host publicationlocal and global perspectives
EditorsChristina Gitsaki, Richard B Baldauf Jr.
Place of PublicationNewcastle upon Tyne, UK
PublisherCambridge Scholars Publishing
Pages311-327
Number of pages17
ISBN (Print)9781443835732
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes

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