‘Survivor’ Instead of ‘Victim’ when Reporting Rape

Published: 3 September 2013

Country: India

india rape mediaAfter the recent gang-rape of a young journalist in Mumbai, Times of India (TOI) announced that it would use the word “survivor” instead of “victim” while reporting on rape and sexual assault. The term “survivor” has been adopted by some media outlets after decades of campaigns by women’s group’s results in educating readers. But if it represents just a cosmetic change of using politically correct terminology, it means little.

“Politically correct terminology is not enough. Responsible journalism does not only refer to using politically correct terminology but it is also about the manner of reporting and respecting people’s privacy”, writes Kalpana Sharma for the Hoot.

Sharma, who is an independent journalists and media expert, analysed how Mumbai’s newspapers covered the story.

She emphasises that, at the beginning, there were only two newspapers which gave out the name of the publication for which the journalist is working, even if these two newspapers were alerted to take the name out of their web editions. Other newspapers didn’t mention the name of the publication. In fact, they actually narrowed down her field of work, mentioning that she is a “photojournalist” or a “photography intern”.

This is relevant because when covering rape and sexual assault, it is important for the media to make sure that the survivor’s privacy is respected. No personal details should be revealed to the public unless the survivor chooses to do so.

Later on, all the print media were driven by the competition and reported on the crime making mistakes of irresponsible journalism. For example, media were quoting doctor who gave out details about the survivor’s health.  The reporter stated that “TOI has learnt” details about the way the survivor has been attacked, although saying that “the hospital refused to comment on this” and that the “family wants to maintain strict privacy and does not want too many medical details to be divulged.” Then, the same newspapers TOI stated that the survivor’s neighbours “didn’t know about the tragedy”, which means they exposed what happened to the survivor’s neighbours, without respecting privacy. They mentioned the religious head of one community and ran the photographs of five accused men with their names underneath, which encourages prejudice because an identity parade had not yet been held.

“Today’s rapes are no different. They have increased in number. They are reported. And a media, which has realised that readers have a vicarious interest in reading about crimes, is obliging by amplifying, selectively, a few of these crimes and acts of extreme violence against women. Pages and pages are devoted to detailed reports about one or two of these crimes, such as this recent incident.

What is different today is the way politics is being played out on the wounded bodies of women. One of the most distressing and distasteful aspects of the media’s coverage of the Mumbai gang rape was the way it gave air time to politicians to hold forth, to score points against rivals, to demand resignations and to blame other communities”, writes Sharma for The Hindu.