‘Boy, 15, tells of romps with magical seductive Ren aged 32’: reporting allegations of female sexual abuse in the British press

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Abstract

This article examines British press coverage of Renate Williams – a female teacher accused of sexually assaulting her adolescent male pupil during a school trip. On the basis of a textual analysis of tabloid and broadsheet reporting of the case, I argue that through focus on her appearance, marital status, background and mental health, the press representation worked to construct Williams as guilty even though she was subsequently acquitted of all charges by the criminal justice system. The frame of Williams transgressing both gender and professional expectations was central to the press reporting in this case. Relating the media reports in the Williams case to existing feminist scholarship on gender, crime and the media, the article argues that her gender was used as a source of titillation to diminish her accusation, thereby exposing the potential contradictions in press representations of allegations of sexual abuse by women.

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