Russell Williams has submitted a guilty plea for 88 charges against him, including breaking and entering, attempted breaking and entering, forcible confinement, sexual assault, and murder. He is, by all accounts, a very bad man.
Given his plea of GUILTY to every charge brought against him, I find it particularly astonishing that he still requires a media cir — trial to examine the evidence. He has stood up, said, “Yep, that was me. I broke in, stole shit, and raped and murdered women.”
Yesterday, his trial began – both in a Belleville court and in the Canadian press. News of this man’s crimes has hijacked my Twitter newsfeed. The trial is being liveTweeted in all its explicit gory detail. My eyes were assaulted by the image of him wearing a bra on the cover of this morning’s Toronto Sun. And news of his “fetishes” has overshadowed the true nature of his crimes.
This is problematic, and for several reasons. First, his victims – those who survived as well as those who did not – are being pushed to the side in order to glorify his perceived perversions. Two murdered women, on their own, do not a good story make. Women get murdered all the time in our world. It’s not sexy, it doesn’t sell papers, and it doesn’t increase web hits. But women murdered by men who take photos of themselves wearing lingerie? THAT is a story.
It’s the wrong story, though. Let’s recap:
break and enter –> criminal
theft –> criminal
forcible confinement –> criminal
sexual assault –> criminal
homicide –> criminal
masculine-bodied people wearing clothes made for feminine-bodied people –> LEGAL
Being a crossdresser is not a crime. Putting a photo of WIlliams on the cover of the Sun wearing nothing but a bra doesn’t only demonize him as “evil” and perverted: it puts every single person whose gender presentation transgresses the norm into danger. They become/remain suspect, and their very lives become more threatened. By equating the horrific things WIlliams did to his victims with his choice to don his victims’ underclothes is to reinforce the ideology that all transgendered, gender queer, and fetishists are capable of that level of horror.
It’s Silence of the Lambs, writ large, but using a real-life poster boy of depravity. Williams wearing women’s clothing is not a sign of the escalation of his criminal behaviour. His STEALING TROPHIES FROM HIS VICTIMS is.
No one would look at how one vegetarian art school drop out turned out and assume from his actions that every one like him would also be a genocidal megalomaniac. The way Williams’ story is being framed makes his cross-dressing directly related to his criminal acts, though, and that connection is being made in minds across the province by those who have no context for understanding the complexities of healthy expression of gender variation and sexualities.
The media have a responsibility to ensure that people are not further victimized by their coverage (or at the very least, they should).