Reporting on sexual violence

“Reporting on sexual violence demands special care and increased ethical sensitivity. It requires specialized inter-viewing skills, understanding of the law, and basic awareness about the psychological impact of trauma”.

In order to talk about the international publication of IRPI’s investigation into couchsurfing rapist, we asked a panel of senior communicators—Cecilia Anesi, co-founder IRPI; Alessia Cerantola, co-founder IRPI; Gavin Rees, director of Dart Centre Europe and Giulio Rubino, co-founder IRPI.

The panel started talking about the victims. Because the sexual violence could be physical and perpetrated against men, woman or children of any age. Talking about such an event is usually associated with very high levels of distress—during re-telling survivors may even re-experience some of the same emotions they felt at the time of being violated. Consequently, journalists need to take special care, if they are to avoid compounding their interviewees’ distress.

“Preparation and Approach”

Gavin Rees made an example—How to interview a man whose girlfriend was been raped? The most important thing is to give those victims space and time to calm down, to speak again.

Basically there are four ways:

1, Brief yourself thoroughly on the impacts and causes of sexual violence.

Research local conditions and circumstances. But once you have done your research, leave it at the door. It doesn’t matter how much knowledge you have on the topic, you can never predict how a particular individual experienced the events that happened to them.

2, Get the language right.

Rape or sexual assault is in no way associated with normal sexual activity; trafficking in woman is not to be confused with prostitution. People who have suffered sexual violence may not wish to be described as a “victim” unless they choose the word themselves. Many prefer the word “survivor”.

3, Respect a potential interviewee’s right to say no.

Nobody should ever be forced to talk in detail about an event as traumatic as rape. Not everybody is in the right place to speak.

4, Ask yourself whether approaching some risks compromising his or her safety and privacy.

In some societies, just being suspected of having been raped, can lead to humiliation, being ostracized, and even to further violence. Tread carefully and think about how and where you meet a potential source—Identify yourself clearly and never pretend not to be a journalist. Explaining the type of your story you’re planning to write is likely to help build trust between you and the interview and result in better work.

“ Anticipating the impact of publication”

The last speaker Alessia Cerantola made it very clear by analyzing some cases that it is really hard to denounce because of lacking evidence.

In this way, journalist have a responsibility to do everything they can to avoid exposing the interviewee to further abuse of undermining their standing in the community. Consider letting survivors read portions of your story before publication, as it can lesson the impact of public exposure and help catch factual errors. After reading and seeing evidence of your intentions, they may decide to share more of their story with you.

Lai keji