How The Media Has Gone Horribly Wrong In Reporting Rape Cases

Posted on May 14, 2014 in Gender-Based Violence, Media, Society, Taboos

By Manavi Jain:

Media, throughout the years, has been vested with the power of being the “change- conduit”. But, as a great man once said: with great power comes great responsibility. Change becomes inevitable when we talk in the context of society at large. The media has the responsibility to channelize this process of change and ensure that a society is on the path of progress. In fact, media, along with the legislature, can oar the society’s boat to a crime-waned shore. But, is the media doing its bit in this regard or are we actually in need of out-of-the-comic-book superheroes to save the day? I believe I don’t even have to answer that question. There is so much that media and only media can do especially when it comes to crimes like rape. It is not just surprising but also deeply saddening how horribly wrong media has gone in reporting rape cases.

anti rape

From my perspective, the media is engaging in a completely flawed approach while dealing with rape-cases. As per my knowledge, there can be two angles to report a rape case: the prevention angle and the risk reduction angle. The prevention angle focuses on the potential perpetrators and looks for ways to deter them from committing the crime. On the other hand, the risk reduction angle focuses on victims. It concentrates on safety measure that can keep them away from being the subjects of rape. It is, in fact, important for both these angles to be incorporated while dealing with sensitive issues like rape because, let us be practical; we are a galaxy far away from a society eradicated of rape.

The problem with media is that they report the rape cases standing at the podium marked the “risk reduction angle”. Often the consequences on the masses of cases reported with this angle are all based on fear — girls and women fear to stay out late at night, they are advised to wear decent clothes, befriend people who can be trusted, carry pepper spray in their bags, to be accompanied by someone anywhere they go and the list just goes on. These measures may do a great deal in reducing the number of rape cases. But are they dissolving the root of this evil of rape? How effective is such reporting in the long run?

The basis of reporting such rape cases needs to be shifted from telling what one should do to avoid falling prey to the hunter to what one should do to refrain from being the hunter (one such initiative being the Don’t be that guy campaign). Various surveys conducted indentify sexual entitlement and hegemonic masculinity to be the main reasons behind humans turning into rapists. Reports should be centred on assertions countering such tendencies. If media reports publish themselves with intent of garnering sympathy for the victim, aren’t they further bolstering and fulfilling the tendencies talked about earlier?

As far as the disclosure of identities of the rape victims is concerned, I believe their choice should be respected. They shouldn’t be used as poster-girls in this whole mockery of the “Justice-For” campaigns. What difference would calling a rape victim by the name Nirbhaya or Damini make? Instead of wasting precious news columns on reports playing merry-go-round on one particular rape case, efforts need to be made to ensure such an event doesn’t take place again. For every other rape is the slap on our faces by the society’s evil doppelganger.

Nobody is born a criminal. If a person’s environment can turn him into a criminal, a change in that very environment can bring him back to equilibrium. Media has to be that change. The job of media is not to decide how the wrong-doer should be punished, no. It shouldn’t play the deterrent but a reformative role. We do have separate institutions to deal with that matter. The mantra of media should not be getting an edge over fellow players by cladding the rape reports in expensive outfits of over-sensitization. The profit-making aspect of the media needs to go downhill. After years of stipulating the do’s and the don’ts for the potential rape victims, time has come to do something about rape perpetrators. The essence of sympathy and cowardice among the inflicted and the potential victim(s) needs to be substituted with the flavour of strength while media reports a rape case.