Guidelines on how to report on sexual violence against women from a gender-ethics perspective, originally published in the Learning Resource Kit for Gender-Ethical Journalism and Media House Policy (WACC/IFJ, 2012).
According to the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma, "reporting on sexual violence demands special care and increased ethical sensitivity. It requires specialised interviewing skills, understanding of the law, and basic awareness about the psychological impact of trauma.” On all levels and topics of reporting, a special awareness is required to offer ethical journalism that challenges stereotypes and begins to provide a more balanced and just worldview. However, in the case of reporting on violence against women, including sexual violence, it carries an extra responsibility; as anything short of breaking through the silence that often surrounds these criminal acts of rape, assault and murder supports a status quo that minimises and excuses the impact of violence, and endangers women everywhere.
6. Do not contribute to sexist views: Do not suggest, in any way, that the survivor was to blame, or give advice that curtails a woman’s activities, dress or behaviour. Avoid the use of dramatic language, such as “defenceless”, “lured” and “subjected to a fate worse than death”, as these pander to stereotypes about women as, for instance, gullible. Do not make judgements based on the woman’s response or level of recovery. It is important to show that women can recover and there is no such thing as a “normal” reaction to an abnormal situation. Respect the diversity of women.
7. Tell the whole story, but do not be gratuitous: Do not glorify the gory details. It is important to place the event in context, both in terms of the community or location, and for the woman. Present women as whole human beings, who had a life before, and are having a life after the event.
8. Make the perpetrator visible: Too often the perpetrator is absent or relatively invisible. Women do not get themselves raped. Also, mainstream media refer to rapists or attackers as “monsters” or “maniacs”, which suggests that they are visibly different from other men, when this is patently untrue. Another area where the perpetrator is often excused, or the attack minimised, is in cases of domestic abuse.
9. Rape in War: This is one of the most difficult areas to cover as a journalist. It often goes unreported due to fear of further attacks, it is almost always difficult to verify, and the sheer brutality of this particular “weapon of war” has been reported to cause traumatic reactions in journalists covering it. Be sensitive to language, allowing interviewees to lead your choice of terminology. Be wary if armed officials or others want to sit in on the interview, they may be possible collaborators or know the attackers, but do not be confrontational as this can impact the safety of the people you are interviewing.10. Whenever possible, provide information on the organisations sexual violence survivors can turn to for help and support. Back To Top