I Think: Sexual violence in crisis settings is neglected by the media
Nimisha Goswami, development professional, New Delhi
I am a regular consumer of news and take a strong interest in matters of gender-based violence, especially given my area of work. I read newspapers every day, but in general I prefer to get my news online, and find social media to be a useful source of stories.
I feel that the news coverage of sexual violence is deeply problematic. There is undue focus on the survivor and the violence that was done to them (whether they are a woman, man, or third gender). The survivor is basically used to make the story more interesting, whether it is details about what they were doing at the time of the attack, or their life story in general. How does any of that help? As a consumer of news, I’d like to know more about the rapist and the legal consequences for the crime. In what kind of law and order context did the crime take place? Could it have been prevented? What action is being taken?
There is also an inherent regional bias in the stories that are covered. For example, I hardly ever see stories from Northeast India in the national papers. I am from Assam and very few of the big stories there are ever disseminated outside of the region. The national publications need to do a better job about representing the issue of sexual violence in other parts of India.
Another aspect of sexual violence that gets neglected in the media is its prevalence in crisis settings. I work on the provision of sexual and reproductive health services for women, men and boys in crisis situations. Based on my experience of working in these settings, I have seen that women and young girls are particularly at higher risk of sexual and gender-based violence, including trafficking . The data on such cases is extremely difficult to find and stigma is high. Usually the general public or community members are also not so aware of how to prevent or manage such situations. Thus it’s critical that communities should be made aware of such issues and how to prevent such incidents. Working with the various stakeholders — the general public as well as the agencies involved — is essential.
If I were a journalist, I’d adopt a far wider lens. I would interview different stakeholders and interrogate their role in the incidence of sexual violence in the community — I’m talking about the police, the district administration, the court system. You cannot talk about sexual violence without talking about the system and its flaws.