Sameera Khan, journalist, communications teacher and Friend of Prajnya, has written this piece for the TV show ‘Satyameva Jayate’ on how to report rape. We copy and paste it here for wider access, but the original is posted here. Do visit this infographic for an illustration on how not to report–it’s very good. And you can watch Sameera here.
What journalists write and broadcast in the media impacts the general public’s understanding of rape and sexual assault. Therefore, it is crucial that the reportage be done in a manner that protects the identity of the survivor, gives out accurate facts, and treats the incident with sensitivity. Here are a few guidelines that we have prepared in consultation with journalist and writer Sameera Khan.
Choose your words carefully
- The use of ‘survivor of sexual assault’ is favoured over ‘victim’.
- Don’t make the act seem less grave by using ‘had sex with’ instead of ‘raped’, or ‘fondled’ instead of ‘molested’.
- Don’t lead the reader towards making assumptions about the survivor by using adjectives like ‘pitiful’ and ‘helpless’.
- Get the facts of the case right—don’t refer to the ‘accused’ as the ‘convicted’ or vice-versa. This could affect the case adversely.
Choose your writing style carefully
- Reporting on rape and sexual assault calls for the use of the active voice.
- Say that ‘XYZ raped her’ or ‘XYZ assaulted her’ instead of saying ‘She was raped’ or ‘She was assaulted’.
- Shift the focus to the accused instead of the survivor.
Choose your tone carefully
- Do not speak to the survivor, her family or the general public in a moralizing tone.
- Do not use lines such as ‘Women should only wear saris, says a city official’ and ‘Women should not go out after 8 pm, says a local politician’ matter-of-factly. Views such as these must be questioned.
- Journalists should abstain from providing an opinion about the survivor based on where the incident took place (for e.g., a bar), what the survivor was wearing at the time, or what time of the day it was.
Choose the details you need to disclose
- The survivor’s name, address and details about her family should never be disclosed.
- No indirect mention should be made that might reveal the identity of the survivor. The colour of her hair, the places she frequents, the area she lives in, the vehicle she rides, the number of siblings she has, whether she has a boyfriend or not—all of these are just a few examples and such details in a report are absolutely irrelevant and unnecessary.
- No details about the family of the accused should be shared if they are not relevant to the investigation.
Choose and treat your sources with caution and quote them carefully
- Do not write a story from the perspective of a single source.
- When looking for quotes, speak only with those experts who are qualified to comment on the subject.
- Ask the police to substantiate the charges against the accused instead of quoting lines from a conversation with a police officer.
- Do not assume what your sources feel or would want to say. Do not carry lines such as ‘We can assume the police are in a tight spot’ or ‘It can be said the doctors need some more time to comment on the incident’.
Choose the focus of your story
- A few days after the incident, focus on the bigger picture with follow-up stories, though with due sensitivity.
- If an incident happens in the morning or the afternoon, comment on how sexual violence is not limited to a particular time instead of commenting on what the survivor or accused was doing at that time.
- If an incident happens in a public place, comment on increasing the safety of citizens in public places instead of commenting on what the survivor was doing there.
- Do not feed public fears and myths. Instead, provide the general public a lens with which it can see the larger picture and the seriousness of the crime.
Understand the need for confidentiality and privacy
- Disclosing only necessary details helps protect the survivor’s, witnesses’ and their family’s identity.
- Do not, under any circumstances, harass the survivor, witness or their families with repeated phone calls or visits to their homes without their consent.
- If a journalist discloses the identity of the survivor in any manner, he or she can be jailed for a period of 2 years and fined.
- The Press Council of India or News Broadcasters Association can also take action against the journalist.
On Dec 4, a partially visually impaired nine-year-old girl was allegedly raped by a former neighbour. Hindustan Times carried a detailed report about how it happened, the filing of the police complaint and the subsequent arrest of the neighbour — http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/NewDelhi/Visually-impaired-minor-raped/Article1-968527.aspx
In the Times of India report, a single column story, the headline was: Blind girl ‘raped’ — http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-12-05/delhi/35619109_1_neighbour-blind-girl-aman-vihar
The report goes on to give the same details as the HT story. Why then has the word rape in the headline been put in single quotes? There seems to be no doubt about the case, at least in the way it was reported: the victim identified the perpetrator, he was arrested and a case registered. TOI doesn’t make a practice of this — on Dec 6, they carried a story of a Rwandan woman raped with the headline: Rwandan woman gang-raped near DU.
The use of single quotes here, feels like the report is calling into question the veracity of the crime, and perhaps making it seem like less than it was.
On November 30, 2012 The New Indian Express carried a story “Acid attack victim may never see light” about Vinodhini, the young woman who had been attacked by a stalker in Karaikudi. Times of India reported the same story that day, but as it has done throughout its reporting on this case, used Vinodhini’s condition as a peg to explore other issues. In this case, “Rehabilitation often eludes victims of acid attacks” explored the long-term effects of such attacks, the way it scars the victim’s lives in more ways than one and raises the important issue of rehabilitation for the victims of such attacks. This is commendable as while updating the readers on Vinodhini’s case is important, it is equally important to report on as many aspects of such a case as possible.
On December 3, 2012, the Times of India published an article with the headline “40% of domestic violence are reported in Tamil Nadu“. Though 40% sounds like a huge figure, India recorded only 9,431 of domestic violence in 2011. And, if you remove TN, Gujarat and West Bengal from the equation, only 521 cases were recorded from the rest of the country. So it is not surprising that the police officer quoted in the article cites better awareness and reporting as the reason for TN’s dominance in this area. Instead of hyping the 40% figure, the article could have touched upon how awareness was so much better in these states than in the rest of the India. How had TN created this awareness? There is one other thing that bothers me about this report and that is the impression, one gets from U Vasuki’s quotes, that domestic violence is a problem related to the poor, fuelled by alcohol. We know domestic violence happens across class, caste, religion and gender. This needs to be reflected in articles on the subject.
A man is jailed for living with a woman for 9 years, while she believed they were married, and then forcing her out of the house, saying she wasn’t his wife:
The man was jailed under Section 493 of IPC , which prescribes upto 10 years in jail for: “Cohabitation caused by a man deceitfully inducing a belief of lawful marriage”
The question the Supreme Court faced was: does this action attract penal provisions? The court decided it did.
The New York Times ran this obit for poet, writer and feminist Adrienne Rich.
The Hindu ran this.
Both really nice but somehow the first seems to capture her better, almost like the writer really loved and admired both her and her work. Maybe it’s just because I read the NYT one first. Maybe it’s because I had struggled with writing my first obit just a few days earlier and appreciated how important it is to capture the life and not just the achievements.
Two really good stories on The Hindu’s site: The first on low conviction rates for rape and the second an analysis.
Unless I missed it in the newspaper, the first seems to be a web exclusive and provides links to PDFs with more data, which is nice when you’re in a geeky mood and want to pore over tables and also nice when you’re feeling lazy and are in skim-text-and-grab-gist mode. Again tables that I didn’t see in the paper, but I could have missed it. Extra space to provide external links is one of the advantages of the internet that most newspaper sites in India don’t exploit enough. I’m nit-picking here, but this story doesn’t have a link to the analysis and it’s annoying to go back to the homepage to find the analysis.
I liked the analysis, which appeared in the paper too, better because is a more comprehensive story, touching on the dropping conviction rates and the possible reasons — diminishing investigating capabilities, shortage of staff (the eternal plague of the government), and social attitudes (can they be ‘toxic’, as the intro describes them?). The most interesting point is the better conviction rates in the north-east, where literacy rates and gender ratios are comparatively higher. Reading for the right reasons?
This op-ed piece in The Hindu (http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article2826252.ece) makes the important point that “Indian policymakers, accustomed to ‘targeting’ the poor (i.e. BPL) need to bravely enter the unfamiliar terrain of targeting the not-so-poor, the upwardly mobile, the wealthy” when it comes to female foeticide. I also like the way it takes a dig at government pro-girl-child campaigns that talk of protecting and coddling the girl child. Patriarchal attitude, it says, that comes from the notion that women have to be looked after. But haven’t we all written school essays on ‘Female Foeticide, A Social Evil’ and said the very same things, sometimes in Hindi too? So where does it all start?
And here’s the response to the first op-ed piece (http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article2858004.ece) that, quite predictably, says the law is good, it’s just the implementation that’s the problem. This piece has good points too, though ones often heard before.
And as an aside, I like this new ‘Debate’ column that The Hindu’s started on it’s Op-Ed page. Here is one side of a debate that mentions, in passing, the relationship between caste and honour killings (http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article2939240.ece).
Should papers even carry illustrations to represent the idea of a “rape victim”, however generic the illustration is?
If you’re beginning to think this blog has too much news from TOI, I realise that too. I will try and correct that in future. It’s just that I’ve been finding more gender-centred stories in TOI compared to The Hindu and New Indian Express, which I also read regularly. Does TOI report more stories on gender and crimes against women? Or do they play it up more? Do they give it more space? If so, why? Concern over rising crime? Readership? Shock value? That’s something to think about, maybe.
And just to add something that writer and journalist Ammu Joseph talked about during a Reporters’ Roundtable that Prajnya organised about a year and a half ago: She said she followed four papers closely for about two weeks, clipping out stories relating to gender violence and crimes against women so that she could get an idea of how papers covered the issue. And she found that “the much-reviled TOI, everybody’s favourite whipping boy” carried the most stories, with the most details, in that period in Bangalore.
More to think about, no?
Apologies for a post that isn’t strictly about something that appeared in print but I’m just back home after a day of editing murderously written crime copies.
Eight out of ten of them will “include women”. And often you see it in the paper too.
Five persons, including two women, were injured…
Four persons, including a woman, were arrested…
Seven members of a family, including three women, were returning home…
I’ve asked crime reporters and senior editors why it’s written this way. No one’s been able to give me an answer.
Is it 33% reservation for women in media? 🙂
Does it stem from the old-world idea of women-and-children first?
Is it because we otherwise tend to exclude women?