CAUTION: The following references to some seriously hateful victim-blaming in a fictional case of date rape may prove triggering to some of you. It certainly did the author. Reader discretion is advised.
The German magazine Bravo is a mainstay among German teens. In its hallowed pages can be found celebrity news on truly awful American celebrities, as well as German ones. German teens also look to the magazine for guidance in conducting their sexual affairs. Unfortunately.
You see, Bravo has long published a series of really weird PG-rated photostories about teens’ sexual exploits. When I say “photostories,” well, you may recall those weird little glossy-paged paperbacks you could pick up in the ’70s and ’80s that would retell stories from The A-Team, the pilot episode of Airwolf, or Planet of the Apes, or, say, Ordinary People in stills and speech bubbles. It’s like that.
Only in Bravo’s photostory “Der One-Night Stand,” which was originally published in 2006 and then recently reposted, we have not The Star Wars Holiday Special in photocomix, but a PG-rated cautionary tale about Sandy, 16-year-old girl who is annoyed by her boyfriend Basti’s obsession with football. She goes out and gets drunk, then gets date raped by Rob, who turns out to be HIV positive.
Guess whose fault this is, in the twisted logic of this hate tract? That’s right, Sandy’s to blame! In fact, the blame she places on herself is presented in the story as entirely appropriate. The situation is portrayed as “cheating” — and all Sandy’s fault — even though it’s clearly a blatant case of alcohol-facilitated date rape.
It gets worse. After Sandy’s best friend distances herself from Sandy, apparently creeped out by the idea that Sandy might be HIV positive; that doesn’t stop Sandy from taking her friend’s advice about getting an HIV test. Appaerntly, in the warped photocomic’s counter-Germany, she has to wait twelve weeks for the results. This is a grotesque piece of misinformation obviously intended as a scare tactic — HIV results haven’t taken twelve weeks, to my knowledge, ever. Maybe they do in Germany, but I doubt it. I suspect that’s nothing more than an attempt to make HIV seem more deadly and mysterious to scared teens than it already does.
Don’t worry, though — Basti responds to Sandy’s confession of “guilt” in “cheating” on him by — anyone? — That’s right, kicking her rapist’s ass! The only problem? Anyone? That’s right! Basti gets blood on his knuckles! As the story closes, we’re left wondering whether Basti himself may seroconvert, and, yes, it’s all Sandy’s fault.
If it seems like I’ve been engaging in a little Frölichkeit above, you should know that the fun stops here.
You can read “Der One-Night Stand” in German here, though if you’re not a German-speaker you should be warned that Google Translate chokes on German colloquialisms — not to mention pronouns and cases. What’s worse, Bravo.de is so badly designed and loaded up with unending ad scripts as to make the photostory almost unreadable (which in some ways may be a blessing). So maybe that’s contributed to my righteous fury — clawing my way through more than sixty pages of this crap was a bit more than I signed on for.
The far more important caution is that “Der One-Night Stand” is one of the most offensive things I’ve ever read. I see it as a straight-up misogynist hate tract that is packaged as a cautionary tale. It’s not just triggering because of its portrayal of date rape; it’s the hateful victim-blaming and the blatant disregard for HIV-related facts that makes it impossible for me to read without wanting to break something.
Keep in mind that this is a mainstream media outlet for teens, not propaganda put out by some weird reactionary fringe group. And it was originally published five years ago, whereupon we heard not a peep.
When “Der One-Night Stand” was reposted recently, it came to the attention of Nadine Latsch at German feminist blog Maedchenmannschaft.net. She posted a commentary on the abominable thing. With a little help from Twitter and Facebook, she started a firestorm of German-language controversy that’s grown to the point where ABC News is covering it.
The hysteria fueled by victim-blaming lies and misinformation like this contributes directly to teens feeling of sexual disempowerment, which contributes to a failure to take appropriate safety measures. The chance of Basti contracting HIV, for instance, from a fistfight, is virtually nonexistent in practical terms. More importantly, it’s completely insignificant compared to the hysteria such a fear causes in teens who are not at risk…but might put themselves at risk if they feel disempowered by risky behaviors’ seeming (fraudulent) ubiquity.
Most important of all, what Sandy experiences is date rape, not “cheating.”
Those were some of the issues voiced by Lantzsch in her blog post about the piece. Here, her German-language post is paraphrased by ABC News:
In her blog entry, Lantzsch writes that, in the piece, Bravo has “portrayed non-consensual sex without exploring the problems relating to it.” Lantsch told SPIEGEL ONLINE by phone that she has since complained to both the editors at Bravo as well as its publishing house, Bauer. Lantzsch said she is concerned that the photo story does not sufficiently describe the encounter depicted in the story as sexual violence. And that’s not the only problem with it.
…”In addition to belittling rape and victim blaming, (Bravo) has also included prejudices about those ill with HIV — portraying them as pathological and socially isolated — people who ruthlessly ‘infect’ others just as soon as they have the opportunity,” Lantzsch writes in her blog entry.
Lantzsch says that she and her colleagues at the maedchenmannschaft.net blog often inform companies and media of such mistakes, but that they are often brushed off by the editors. “It isn’t seldom that we get answers like: ‘You didn’t understand the joke’,” she says.
That’s more or less what the publisher of Bravo.de has said in response to the criticism, and as far as I can tell the controversy has dropped off the map. A magazine responsible for giving lifestyle information to teens has created one of the most awful examples in history of misogynist rape-apologist propaganda, and it’s all blown over.
The photostory is still up, still pumping out its hateful victim-blaming nonsense and viral misinformation.