1. Use of respectful visuals: Pictures of survivors in torn clothes or hiding their tear stained faces while predatory silhouettes loom over them add to the shame society already imposes on sexual violence survivors. Stock representational images commonly found in media reporting of sexual violence take all power and agency away from survivors, adding to their objectification and, ultimately, to rape culture. Media should instead use empowering images, like those focusing on the culprits, or photographs of protests against such violence, so that survivors feel that their narratives would be told with sensitivity, and more of them come out to report sexual violence.
2. Avoiding victim blaming language: Media trials that declare people as guilty even as investigations or court cases are under way are unethical. At the same time, reporting should not be such that it casts aspersions on the survivor’s account. Instead of writing “the person who allegedly raped”, one can say “the accused”.
3. Maintaining a clear distinction between sex and sexual assault: Terms that describe consensual sexual intimacy between people should not be used when talking about sexual assault. Rape is not sex, groping is not caressing, and so on. When this difference is erased, it dilutes the extremity of the crime and makes it appear as if the survivor were complicit in the violence done to them.
4. Setting the right context: Reports that talk of the victim’s clothes, whether they had sexual relationships in the past . . . all amount to what the Chicago Taskforce Media Toolkit calls “superfluous descriptions”. What deserves to be under the lens is the perpetrator’s action, a deeper study of their history and motivations, pointers that could help a better understanding of rape culture so the approach makes one think of ways of prevention. The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma also calls for framing of news stories in a way that they are “thematic rather than episodic”.
5. Resources for survivors: The incident of violence and the pursuit of legal justice is one aspect of the story. But what are the options available for survivors who are in need of not only legal and financial but also emotional help? What kind of resources are available for them that would help them not only secure justice but also heal from the trauma? This would provide some much needed information as well as remind the state and society about their responsibility towards survivors.
First published in The Assam Tribune, 17 February 2019.