Reporting child sexual abuse in India

BY Report by ARPAN| IN Books | 26/05/2014
In 10.5 % of all the cases either the victim, the abuser or both are identified through the reporting of the newspapers as they tend to report minute details,
reveals a report by ARPAN

Extracted from: Between the lines – an analysis of media reportage on child sexual abuse

FINDINGS:

The newspaper coverage of Child Sexual Abuse is concentrated on reporting cases from Mumbai with an average of 51.1 % cases from Mumbai being reported. This is understandable given the fact that only the Mumbai edition of the newspapers have been reviewed, which would mostly concentrate on local stories.  

However, what is surprising is that the coverage for the rest of Maharashtra has been minuscule accounting to only 4.62% of all news coverage on CSA. In contrast, the news from the other major cities in the country has been quite well represented accounting for 44.26% cases which is just 6.84% less than the coverage of cases from Mumbai. This points to a trend where issues of cosmopolitan/metropolitan cities get greater prominence over occurrences in smaller cities, towns and villages. The reporting of Child Sexual Abuse cases or generic articles pertaining to prevention and rehabilitation mostly occurs only in one newspaper (69.5% cases). When reported in more than one newspaper, 22.72% of cases the data has been consistent while in 7.8% cases the data shows inconsistency regarding the nature of incident (whether it is rape or molestation), age of the victim (whether he/she is minor), age of the abuser (whether he is a minor) and others.

In almost 90% cases, the reporting has been of contemporary cases i.e., where the reporting has immediately succeeded the incident of Child Sexual Abuse. However, in almost 10% cases the report has been delayed i.e., the reporting has featured after a week or more.

In 10.5 % of all the cases either the victim, the abuser or both is identified through the reporting of the newspapers as the newspapers tend to report minute details like the name of the school, grade the child is in, address of the victim, location of crime and photographs of the same. In order to validate this observation we will briefly discuss a couple of cases in which details were revealed:

  • South Bombay Tantrik Case dated 30.11.2010: The location of residence, complete description except name of siblings, name of the tantric and his relation to siblings’ mother and aunt.
  • Manav Mandir Case dated 5.10.2011: The name of the school, the grade the child is in, designation of the abuser, the locality of the school, the child’s residence and the photograph of the school.
  • Navi Mumbai Kalamboli Rape Case dated 24.6.2010: The name of the school, the tutor and the grade of the student.
  • Ramchandra Nadar Case dated 20.6.2010: The name of the private tutor including location of residence, his profession, family background; victim‘s family background including location of residence and child’s learning disability namely dyslexia.
  • Film star’s Daughter’s Case dated 12.5.2009: All details splashed continuously including the name of the film star, details of the victim and the abuser.
  • Mira Road Incest Case dated 21.3.09: Name of the father and his astrologer friend who committed the abuse and location of residence.

Though the press is prohibited from reporting certain details, specifically the names of child victims, offenders and witnesses or any other details that have the probability of revealing the victim’s identity; this is not followed strictly in all cases. The restriction on publication of identifying details of Child Sexual Abuse victims exist in order to protect the victims’ identity and as this might discourage other victims to come forward and report. However, the reason generally cited by the media for the inclusion of crime details and personal information (either positive or negative) about the victim or offender is that it makes the story newsworthy.

The kind of cases covered

In the review period of five years, 1,711 newspaper articles have generally touched upon the issue of Child Sexual Abuse. Of these, 1,255 articles particularly pertain to cases of CSA that have occurred; and among these 1,255 articles featuring in the newspaper, 42 articles have been about tracked cases i.e., a case has been followed up beyond a month. This projects that on an average every year 242.2 articles were reported on the basis of a case which took place. This data points towards consistent reporting on CSA. However, if we compare the data even with the data of rape of children available through NCRBI (2010) then it is clear that newspapers report only a fractional proportion of cases which get registered with the police.

In 455 articles featuring on CSA, the focus is not on responding to the dynamics of a particular case which has happened but more towards discussion on the generic issue. Articles which did not feature as an aftermath of a contemporary case, thus, are quite less and accounts for only 26.6% of all cases reported. This clearly points out that reporting on CSA is more episodic in nature than thematic and, hence, often does not address the broader social context and dynamics of the issue. This episodic nature of reporting based on isolated cases of CSA might hinder the process of creating a public opinion around the issue of Child Sexual Abuse since such news articles end up furnishing the graphic details of the case and little focus is on preventive or rehabilitative aspects.

This is further reinforced by that fact that even among these 455 articles which address CSA as a thematic issue, a significant proportion (59.02%) addresses verdicts of court cases and legislative developments and analysis. There is a significant focus on rape laws in this news coverage leading to sidelining of other forms of CSA in absence of laws pertaining to CSA per se. Some of the headlines in this arena have been ‘‘Penetration Must for Rape Conviction: Bombay HC ‘,’Sex with Girl Above 16 Does Not Make it Consensual, Rules Bombay HC’, ‘Supreme Court Rules, No Corroboration Required in Rape Cases’, ‘Need Stringent Law for Cases of Child Sexual Abuse’, ‘No More Two Finger Test in Rape Case’ and ‘Medical evidence not always must to prove rape: HC’. No doubt considerable hope can be generated through news reports of criminal justice system handling a fair trial and convicting the offender or giving verdicts and creating landmark judgments. However, a disproportionate focus on criminal justice would mean overlooking other significant components of preventive and rehabilitative aspects of CSA. Over the five years the data projects that only 7.64% of articles are devoted to rehabilitation and emerging policy decision around CSA. Prevalence (statistics from various local and international studies), prevention (strategies to reduce occurrence of CSA), therapeutic/healing intervention and protocols of response from the civil society (Public health system, Police system and NGOs) and cyber sexual abuse taken together amount to only 29.94% of articles featuring thematic reporting. Among these articles, the maximum coverage is on statistics of CSA and the minimum has been on strategies to reduce occurrence and therapeutic/healing aspects of CSA.

Since power dynamics play such a huge role in sexual violence against children, to reduce incidences of Child Sexual Abuse, it is essential to acknowledge and deconstruct these power hierarchies. For this reason, prevention and healing are two critical approaches to deal with CSA in a holistic way. It is as much important to create awareness on this issue, equip children and adults with knowledge, skills and attitude; as it is to provide appropriate healing support to children and adult survivors who have undergone abuse and their families in order to reduce the probability of re-victimization and/repeated instances of abuse. It is also important to appreciate the complexity of the immediate situations of survivors of CSA and their relationships/attachments with their abusers. We often find that the media frequently employs sensational methods of reportage such as naming and shaming the perpetrators or calling for death penalty for abusers instead of trying a more nuanced approach and focusing on the larger issue of CSA.

Full report including methodology and tables available at: http://arpan.org.in/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Arpan-Media-Report-For-Web-Use.pdf

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