Gang rape and the 'nasty migrant' : a comparative analysis of French and Australian public discourses

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This thesis is a comparative analysis of the public discourses in France and Australia on a series of highly mediatised gang rapes. In the context of Australia, the ‘Sydney gang rapes’ attracted intense media and political attention in 2001 through reports of a gang rape phenomenon involving gangs of young ‘Lebanese’/’Muslim’ men targeting and raping ‘Australian’ girls. Some commentators also identified links between these gang rapes and what they identified as being similar gang rapes involving ‘young Muslim men’ in France: a phenomenon known as ‘les tournantes’. In France, ‘les tournantes’ became the source of public attention following the release in 2000 of a film depicting a gang rape involving predominantly men from immigrant backgrounds in a Parisian banlieue. The first widely reported criminal trials involving ‘les tournantes’ followed in 2001 and in 2002 a victim of ‘les tournantes’, Samira Bellil published her autobiography, ‘Dans l’enfer des tournantes’ (‘In the Hell of the Tournantes’). Following the murder of a young woman called Sohane Benziane, who was set alight by young men in a cellar in the banlieue in which she lived, a highly publicised women’s march under the banner ‘Ni Putes, Ni Soumises’ (‘Neither Sluts Nor Slaves’) took place throughout France on 1 February 2003. Drawing on the theories of Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Foucault and Judith Butler and using a Critical Discourse Analysis methodological approach, this thesis explores the various discourses that circulated in attempts to explain and respond to these rapes. In particular, it asks why the issue of gang rape committed by young men identified as belonging to a particular minority cultural background – namely, ‘Muslim’–become such a source of public concern in the two nations in approximately the same period. Are there any similarities in the public discourses on the two instances of gang rape, aside from their contemporaneity? And how have the two nations’ different historical, social and political contexts impacted on public discourses on these gang rapes? In seeking to answer these questions the central question of this thesis emerges: how have discoures of nation, gender and rape informed the production of public discourse(s) in these cases of gang rape? It is argued that the ‘Sydney gang rapes’ and ‘les tournantes’ provide useful case studies for exploring the ways in which dominant discourses of gender, national, ethnic and sexual identity have informed public reactions to gang rape committed by members of ethnic minorities in the two nations. In particular, it is argued that the identification of the ‘young Muslim man’ as a problematic and sexually threatening figure to the nation provides a useful means for reinforcing dominant gender and racial/ethnic order.
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