how the Australian media is failing Mayang Prasetyo and all trans women
Trigger warning: slurs, abuse, suicide
A few mornings ago, I hopped on Twitter to find a big screenshot of Brisbane’s The Courier-Mail, its front page salaciously covered with a woman in a bikini and the headline: “Monster Chef and the She Male”. I know I joke with friends that Queensland’s a little behind in its policy-making, but I didn’t realise we were still allowed transphobic slurs in our print media. Inside the paper, the story was headlined as “Ladyboy and the Butcher”.
There has been outrage since the paper’s release, and the Brisbane trans community has started a petition on Change.Org asking for News Corp to release a public apology and for all future articles relating to the trans and sex worker communities to actually align with their Code of Conduct.
Mayang Prasetyo was murdered by her husband, and then butchered and boiled. When police came to investigate, her husband, Marcus Peter Volke, fled their apartment and apparently committed suicide. Prasetyo is not the first and will not be the last woman to die at the hands of her partner.
In Australia, one woman dies every week from intimate partner violence and trans women of colour are at the highest risk of domestic abuse. Despite these staggering statistics, The Courier-Mail’s article finished with numbers for suicide help lines, but no domestic violence help lines. While suicide is the leading cause of death for Australian men aged between 15 and 44 and is an extremely serious issue, domestic violence is the leading cause of death in women aged between 15 and 44 and is so often overlooked in our media.
For this story alone, headlines included “Killed and cooked trans woman was high-class transsexual sex worker” (The Daily Telegraph), and “Killed and cooked trans woman was high-class ‘shemale’ sex worker”, (The Herald Sun) both of which removed the murderer/partner entirely, and The Herald Sun was good enough to join the ranks of The Courier-Mail and used derogatory slurs to describe a recently-deceased trans woman. These are just three of the major newspapers that did not cover this story as the horrendous, and far too common gendered violence that it was. Instead, they sensationalised Prasetyo’s line of work, her gender identity, and the brutal way she was killed. The Courier-Mail’s stellar opening line even made sure everyone knew that the profits she made from being a “high-end prostitute” were sent back to her family in Indonesia, pointing out her race as quickly as possible.
“She’s not like you,” it’s trying to scream, and sadly, it’s going to work on a lot of their readers. They will start to blame Prasetyo for the choice a man made, the choice to take her life.
News Corp’s coverage continued to be a fiasco. The Courier-Mail found it appropriate to other Prasetyo further, by including that a neighbour had noticed how “stunning” she was. This is the newspaper that has displayed Prasetyo in her bikini all over their front page and website, but now feel the need to add a line about how stunning she is. It’s almost (read: exactly) like they are saying that it is unusual for a trans woman to be attractive. The Courier-Mail has sexualised and objectified Prasetyo, and then talked about her killer’s personality more than hers. They are decreasing her personhood, and making her into just another one of the many trans women and sex workers killed each year in Australia and around the world.
A gruesome and tragic real-life story of intimate partner violence has been trivialised nation-wide into the story of someone who is simply ‘other’. Mayang Prasetyo deserves more than to be a sensationalist story used to sell papers and be click bait. In future, our media needs to do better by its readers and by those people and events it reports on. The disregard and disrespect of human lives and the trivialisation of the murder and domestic abuse of trans women of colour are not issues we can let continue to run rampant within commercial media in Australia.
To sign the Brisbane trans community’s petition go here.
If you need help, there are places you can go and numbers you can call:
National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service: 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732):
Lifeline: 13 11 14