Category Archives: Interesting

NY Times: How to Break a Sexual Harassment Story

The media is awash with stories on sexual harassment.

The New York Times published a backstory on the work of its own reporters on three important stories this year.

“There are a number of factors that make allegations of sexual harrassment difficult to report. In all three cases, reporters said sources were hesitant to speak out because their allegations were so intimate; because they feared reprisal by powerful men; and in many instances, the women involved had entered into settlements that included nondisclosure agreements.”

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What do we really need to know?

Dhanya Rajendran of The News Minute posted this online. With her permission, we are cross-posting most of her note, with a link to the original. She raises important questions about how much we need to know in the interests of justice, and where our interest crosses over into idle and hurtful curiosity.

Enough is enough! 

by Dhanya Rajendran

Been reading a lot of posts after the sexual assault and murder of a child in Chennai and the actor’s abduction and case of rape in Kochi…

Questions are being asked about why media splashed the actor’s name and details. I agree. Why could most of these journalists not have asked a simple question to the police: ‘What are the sections? Can we use her name?’. They would have got the answer ‘No’ from the investigators. ( But the cops did give her name away and not the IPC sections. So maybe initially some journos did not know how grave it was). To continue with mentioning her name is highly unethical.

But the same question should be asked to the public too. Over the past few weeks, I have seen many hashtags and people sharing pictures of three minor victims in Tamil Nadu. The Ariyalur gangrape victim, the 7-year-old sexually assaulted and killed by a neighbor in Chennai and now the latest victim, a 3-year old allegedly killed by a woman neighbor.

When I started out as a journalist with Times Now, I remember an air hostess had been killed by her boyfriend and he later committed suicide. My office wanted me to get her parents’ reaction, and I said no.

I was high on ethics and I refused. But soon, work compulsions made me another kind of journalist. I would compulsively dig out details of crimes. Though my intention was always to get the culprit booked, the means to achieve that goal were questionable.

After around 6 years in Times Now, I covered a big case in Bangalore. A man with considerable influence was accused of raping his daughter. Though the police knew where he was, they could not arrest him. Many of us were following the story like crazy. As we dug out detail after detail about the case, there was also an element of competition amongst reporters on who will nail the guy with ‘hard facts’.

Two prominent newspapers then got the child’s medical record, I too did. They splashed it on the front page. TV channels of course would not mention graphic stuff on their tickers, so we were a bit restrained. I called the man’s wife (the complainant) and told her that she can be relieved now as the medical report was out and there was no way her husband could escape.

Her reply is still etched in my brain.

She asked me.”What use is it of, Dhanya? Why should the world know what exactly happened to her? And there is Google.Google will never allow my child to forget that her vagina and anus were injured.”

And then it struck me. In our pursuit to assist in the case, in our pursuit to make sure culprits are caught, we forget the victim, the survivor or their family.

Why should we know the sordid details of a crime? Why should we know who did exactly what?

Does the fact that a 7 year old was sexually assaulted and killed by a neighbour not outrage you? Why should you or I know HOW he assaulted her?

Does the fact that a three-year-old was killed by a neighbour and dumped in a garbage van not outrage you? Do you need to SEE pictures of that hapless child’s dead body to make you feel real outrage?

Does the fact that a young actor whose smiles have made us all happy was taken around in a car and assaulted not outrage you? Why should we be told what EXACTLY was done to her?

Yes, some cases get more highlighted than others. It depends on the place, time and the news cycle, unfortunately.

But let’s not be vultures for details. All of us.

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Media debate: Should the identity of rape victims be revealed?

On September 2, 2013, Bachi Karkaria wrote:

“My suggestion, offered with the utmost sensitivity, is this: reveal your identity and help cast aside the veil of misplaced disgrace. Follow the example of the spunky Shakti Mills girl who walked out of hospital with her face uncovered, though her family had taken the precaution of ensuring that the media was informed of her discharge a day later…

The purdah of anonymity is the accessory of disgrace. Jyoti Singh Pandey`s family went public with her real name after she passed away, thus restoring to `Nirbhaya` her identity as much as the admiration which a shamed country had bestowed on her. Our plucky Shakti Mills girl had declared from hospital itself that ‘rape is not the end of life’. We should help her grab hers back openly — not push her into a space more abandoned than the venue of her violation.”

Bachi Karkaria, Don’t make her lose her face, Times of India, September 2, 2013.

In response, Laxmi Murty has written in The Hoot:

In June this year, Suzette Jordan, 38, shed the title “Park Street case” and courageously claimed her identity as a woman who had been raped but was not willing to remain a victim. This process of “coming out” took place almost a year and a half after she had been gang-raped in a moving car in Park Street, Kolkata. She joins the ranks of feisty women like Bhanwari Devi, Suman Rani, Bilkis Banu and Soni Sori, who have been subjected to rape and sexual violence but are determined to break the silence and fight back. With the support of the women’s movement and civil rights activists who have stuck by them, these women chose to challenge the stigma of rape and have gone on to become the “face” of campaigns to end sexual violence against women.

In her disingenuous editorial page comment in the Times of India on 3 September, “Don’t make her lose face” Bachi Karkaria exhorts women who have been raped: “reveal your identity and help cast aside the veil of misplaced disgrace.” Ms Karkaria adds to the victim blaming by declaring: “It’s time the raped woman stopped allowing us to add insult to her physical and mental injury by doubly burdening her with shame.” It is cruel to even suggest that a raped woman has a choice in being further burdened with shame, when shame and stigma are societal burdens thrust upon her without her consent. The veil of shame around rape and other forms of sexual violence were not created by women, but by a culture that valorises sexual purity and celebrates violent masculinity as the norm.
A victim is “one who is harmed or injured”, and all women who have been subjected to sexual violence are victims of crime. However, it is on the strength of their tenacity and grit; with the continued support of family and friends and women’s organisations; with legal redress and access to justice that many victims are able to become survivors. Transformation cannot occur with replacing a term as Ms Karkaria seems to suggest – there needs to be not only a change in mind-sets, but in support structures for victims to challenge impunity. Merely by employing the term ‘survivor’ instead of ‘victim’, while encouraging reporters to go forth and rake in lascivious details of the acts of sexual violence, extent of injuries or medication being prescribed, the media is not doing a public service or furthering the ends of justice for the victim. Ms Karkaria’s post-facto justification of the TOI’s deplorable coverage by conveniently employing feminist metaphors rings rather hollow. In fact, it is the “card carrying feminists” she derides who have been consistently spearheading campaigns to end sexual violence, through street protests, advocacy and law reform, and ending stigma around rape has been one of the fulcrums of these campaigns.
Undoubtedly, the strictures – both legal and in media ethics – against revealing the name or any identifying details of those who have been subjected to rape or other forms of sexual violence emanate from notions of honour and shame not only of the individual woman but also of the family and community. Stigma is also linked with the loss of virginity and the high premium in Indian society placed on this tiny membrane. However, they also emanate, it must be remembered, from notions of privacy and confidentiality and the creation of a space to heal with dignity, free from the label of “rape victim”. Victims of violent crimes deserve to be allowed to recuperate in every way possible – medical, emotional, psychological and at their workplace. They need to be left in peace, to recover from trauma – both of the rape itself, and the difficult journey to give evidence and stand witness. This is simply not possible with a prying media trying to lap up any tiny detail that would give a new angle to their stories. The media must also be alert to instances where their zeal to outwit their competitors and publish details, such as photographs and statements, or broadcast on-camera testimonies could in fact prejudice the legal case.
Cases of child victims require all the more sensitive handling, as they are in no position to intervene in matters of the media or the criminal justice system. Some issues have special implications when it comes to children. For example, in cases of incest, naming the alleged perpetrator almost directly reveals the identity of the child. While saying that the perpetrators must be named and shamed, in these cases, women’s organisations have had to review their strategies of public pressure on high-profile child abusers, as the publicity could back-fire on the abused child, severely impeding her or his road to recovery and rehabilitation.
Currently, there is a well-defined legal position on the question of disclosing the identity of victims of sexual crimes. According to Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, “Whoever prints or publishes the name or any matter which may make known the identity of any person against whom an offence under section 376, section 376A, section 376B, section 376C or section 376D is alleged or found to have been committed (hereafter in this section referred to as the victim) shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years and shall also be liable to fine.” Thus, the IPC prohibits the disclosure, not only of the victim’s name, but also of facts that could lead to the identification of the victim, such as the place of residence, identifying or naming the victim’s family or friends, university, or work details. This covers dead, minor victims and those with unstable minds. Even if the name is to be disclosed for welfare or legal reasons, this must be done in writing, only to the appropriate government authority, which does not include the media. The only exceptions are when identities are revealed to the police, or by, or with the authorisation in writing of, the victim; or where the victim is dead or minor or of unsound mind, by, or with the authorisation in writing of, the next- of- kin of the victim. One newspaper, The Hindu, desisted from publishing the name of the young woman who was gang-raped in Delhi in December, even though other publications had begun publishing her name after her father revealed her identity and also expressed the family’s desire to have the new law on sexual offences to be named after her. They did not have the written permission from her next-of-kin, said a statement by the editor.
Court proceedings also fall under the protection of the law in terms of identity disclosure. The same section says, “Whoever prints or publishes any matter in relation to any proceeding before a court with respect to an offence referred to in sub- section (1) [i.e. sexual crimes] without the previous permission of such court shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years and shall also be liable to fine.”  The printing or publication of the judgment of any High Court or the Supreme Court however does not amount to an offence within the meaning of this section.
Clearly, several publications have violated the law of the land by publishing identifying markers of the survivor of the Shakti Mills incident, and it is equally evident that these details did not drop into their laps by chance. Reporters were let loose to aggressively seek out anyone willing (or even not so willing) to talk and extract information in desperate attempts at one-upmanship. Why else would reporters swoop down on the locality where the young woman lives and speak to her neighbours or security guards? Why else would they climb on to the window of her hospital room? The larger back-drop of the race for TRPs and the market-driven news industry cannot be ignored while commenting on the flouting of law or lack of media ethics, since the Norms of Journalistic Conduct issued by the Press Council of India (2010) are also unequivocal on the issue of revealing identity. With such clear laws and guidelines in place, media houses must be held accountable for any violations, no matter what their purported motive.
Names are emotive, and undoubtedly laden with potential for compassion and action. It is not surprising that the unknown physio-therapy student, whose rape and murder in Delhi last December prompted large-scale agitations, soon was given names – even the pseudonyms ‘Nirbhaya’ and ‘Damini’ became symbols of protest. Yet, the process of privacy and disclosure is complex and must not be reduced to a binary of brave vs cowardly. Often, the drive for justice obviates concerns of privacy, especially in rural settings or close communities where privacy is at premium. Bhanwari Devi for example, has continued to live in the village where she was gang-raped by upper caste men more than 20 years ago. She does not have the luxury of confidentiality, as she was boycotted by her own community for daring to fight the case, and even single trip she made for a court hearing was open knowledge and the subject of taunting.
When and how a woman chooses to reveal her identity is a product of complex factors. Revealing her own identity can be an empowering process and one that contributes to furthering justice and ending impunity of perpetrators. It takes immense courage to stand up and fight, but the decision must remain hers, not the media’s.
Laxmi Murthy, Rape victim’s identity: Disclosure for whom? The Hoot, September 4, 2013.
(The article is copy-posted here as a “mirror” and not a way to take away credit from The Hoot. This blog is intended to be a resource for journalists covering sexual and gender-based violence.)

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NWMI statement on reporting of West Bengal gang-rape, June 14, 2013

(This Network of Women in Media statement analyses the problems with the reporting in detail, and as such offers a lesson in what to do and what not to do. It is therefore, being cross-posted here.)

NWMI condemns insensitive media coverage of gang rape victim in West Bengal, June 14, 2013

The Network of Women in Media, India, an independent forum of media professionals across the country, condemns the recent insensitive media representation of the 20-year-old college student at Barasat, West Bengal, who was recently gang-raped and violently murdered. In papers such as The Telegraph, Protidin and several other newspapers/channels, the victim’s name and her family’s have been freely used. More shockingly, Bangla newspaper Aajkaal  printed not only the victim’s name but also her photo on its front page.

The victim, a 20-year-old college girl, was gangraped and murdered on her way home from college on Friday, June 7, 2013 around 2 pm. Aajkaal printed her photo with related news on June 9.

Publishing her name is a clear violation of the Supreme Court’s order that the identity of a rape victim cannot be disclosed. Such disclosure is prohibited under Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, as well as the Norms of Journalistic Conduct issued by the Press Council of India (2010). Under the IPC, revealing the identity of a rape victim is punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years and shall also be liable to fine.

Section 228 (A to D) of the Indian Penal Code prohibits the disclosure not only of the victim’s name but also of facts that could lead to the identification of the victim, such as the victim’s place of residence, family or friends, university, or work details. This covers victims who are dead, minors and or have “unstable minds”. Even if the name is to be disclosed for welfare or legal reasons, this must be done in writing, only to the appropriate government authority, which does not include the media.

The reasoning for not disclosing the name of a rape victim is that such disclosure would invade the privacy of the victim and may render her open to further harassment and/or indignity. Revealing the identity of a rape victim could also make her (or her family in case she has not survived) vulnerable to pressure to drop the case.

In a context where the incidence of violence against women in West Bengal (and elsewhere) is rising, it is of grave concern that the media is flouting the law of the land as well as norms of ethics laid down by the PCI.

We demand:

1. Immediate pixellation and removal of all identifiers of the rape victim on online portals and the newspapers’ websites.
2. Issuance of a written apology in the newspapers, including their websites.
3. Institution of mechanisms for ensuring increased gender sensitivity while reporting cases of sexual violence. These measures could include, among others: on-the-job training, workshops, and evolving in-house norms for covering gender-based violence.


Manjira Majumdar, Kolkata
Rajashri Dasgupta, Kolkata
Ranjita Biswas, Kolkata
Anju Munshi, Kolkata
Rina Mukherji, Kolkata
Ammu Joseph, Bangalore
Laxmi Murthy, Bangalore
Gita Aravamudan, Bangalore
Kavin Malar, Chennai
Kavitha Muralidharan, Chennai
Nithila Kanagasabai, Chennai
Jency Samuel, Chennai
R Akhileshwari, Hyderabad
Sandhya Srinivasan, Mumbai
Jyoti Punwani, Mumbai
Geeta Seshu, Mumbai
Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Mumbai
Kalpana Sharma, Mumbai
Sandhya Taksale, Pune
Linda Chhakchhuak, Shillong
[On behalf of the Network of Women in Media, India]

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Sexual abuse means what?

This December 5 report from the Times of India (“Sodomized, boy attempts to kill himself“) is a perfect example of the media not being sure of how to describe sexual abuse. This single column story describes what happened to the boy as sodomy (only in the headline), sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse (“They used to take him to the school bathroom to sexually abuse him…”). The problem with using the last three phrases interchangeably is that they all lose their meaning. In assuming they all mean the same thing, we have ensured they mean nothing. Sodomy is the closest thing we have to a description of what actually happened to the child. Unless we use the exact words describing what exactly happened to a child being sexually abused, we will never adequately express the horror and trauma of child sexual abuse.

A report that appeared on December 4, 2012 in The New Indian Express has a similar problem. In “3 hostel workers axed for torturing girls“, the phrase used is “torture. However, in this case, the report goes on to explain that the children were “tortured” by being asked to “remove their dresses”.

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Not funny

Here’s another thorn in my flesh. On Monday (November 26), ToI published a story titled “Auto driver, aide take Mumbai starlet for a ride, assault her”. For one, I object to the phrase “take for a ride” being (ab)used in this context, though it is true that she was “taken for a ride” in a literal sense. I object, because the levity implied by the phrase does not actually convey the horror of assault. My second objection is to the use of the term “starlet” to describe the victim. “Starlet” is defined by OED as ” a young actress with aspirations to become a star” .  The connotations are not flattering. “Starlet” is not an appropriate description of a person’s occupation, especially not in this context. Is it too much to expect her to be described as “model” or “actor”? By her profession, not a tag?

In the follow up to the first report, this story turns up, again in ToI. The case has been dubbed “Starlet assault case”! On the plus side, the second report includes this quote, which raises some relevant issues:

“Neelam told TOI she had lost faith in the emergency helpline 100. “After a group of fishermen came to my rescue, I dialled 100, but the cops who took my call merely told me to go to the nearest police station. I decided to head home to Andheri and later phoned the police control room. A policewoman answered and heard me out. But instead of helping, she asked why I had waited so long to inform the control room. I was stunned. What would any woman in my situation be expected to do?” Neelam said. “The emergency helpline and police control room are supposed to be custodians of our safety. But how can we rely on them if their personnel have such a callous attitude. I feel women are just not safe in Mumbai anymore.”



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Dharmapuri and Cuddalore

Reports on violence against women have been few and far between in TNIE this week. However two stories caught my eye for the apparently female-centric view they take of caste violence. (TNIE has also dedicated two full pages to stories of inter-caste marriage this week). The first piece appeared on Pg 2 of the paper on Sunday, November 25 and is titled “We are as good as walking corpses”. Though a report on a panel meet constituted by the Women’s Coalition for Change in Chennai, the display given to the story puts the focus on the way Dalit women are affected by caste-based violence. Unfortunately the report does not go into too many specifics of how the violence affected the women — by the second column the narrative shifts back to the male testimonies. The second report appeared on Wednesday (November 28) on Pg 5 of TNIE and is titled “8 Dalit houses Burnt in Caste Violence”. In this case the violence against the Dalit community was triggered by the alleged harassment of a ‘caste’ hindu girl by Dalit men. In this case, the two out of the three Dalit villagers quoted in the report are women and provide a female point of view to the incident. (Contrast this to  ToI’s report on the same incident, that appeared on the same day, “Dalit houses torched in Cuddalore”. The report sticks to the official version of events and though it includes a picture of women affected, does not convey the horror of the violence.)

On Thursday (Nov 29), TNIE follows up on the Cuddalore incident with a report titled “Cuddalore tangled in caste mesh”.  Though mostly an interview with a member of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, it raises some interesting points about the forms untouchability takes on as well as how it affects Dalit girls and women. “A Dalit woman aboard the bus is usually teased… Dalit girls are even afraid of going to schools or colleges by bus.”

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A govt intitiative: a national helpline for women soon

In the Hindustan Times on Nov, 23:

This is being mooted as one stop relief-cum counselling helpline for women across the country. It sounds good on paper, but the child helpline (a similar model) in Chennai has had to contend with problems of inadequate, untrained staff. And also, will this be linked to the police in case of a real-time emergency — that’s a concern.

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