How to Cover Rape Responsibly
In light of the recent coverage of rapes in India, Helen Benedict, a professor at Columbia J-School, recently wrote a blog post for Women Under Siege on covering rape responsibly. Start with some background from Poynter on why journalists are covering rape differently in the US and India.
Professor Benedict sheds fascinating light on the issue:
In short, when we cover rape in the Sudan, Rwanda, the Balkans, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and now in India, we look at why the men do it. We write about the beliefs of child soldiers that raping a virgin will protect them from AIDS, or about the way men are trained to see women as booty in war. We discuss rape as a tool of ethnic cleansing and genocide. And lately, concerning India, we’ve been running stories about the traditionally subservient role of women, how the economy is liberating them, and the subsequent violent reaction of men.
But as soon as we look at rape among our own, whether civilian or military, this perspective is entirely neglected. Instead, we ask questions about the victim: what she was doing, her past, how she was behaving, her relationship to the assailant, whether she’d been drinking, etc., etc. And we cover rape as a psychological aberration, never asking how and where men learn to rape, never seeing it as symptomatic of something in our culture. Thus we entirely neglect to look at why this crime continues to rise as other crimes drop, why one in six women is raped in her lifetime, why one in three women is sexually assaulted in the military, and why no woman in America walks free of the fear of sexual predation and violence.
Keep reading for the hopeful part, and the questions she would like to see answered instead.
Image: via Women Under Siege, word cloud generated from headlines calling what happened in the Air Force; Steubenville, Ohio; and at the Horace Mann School and Penn State University “sex scandals.”