Trigger Warning: Mention of Rape and Sexual Assault
New Media has also changed the style of journalism, such as the rise of online journalism, where facts, information, and reports are produced and distributed through the internet. News in the New Media era is enabled to spread more widely and rapidly. News content is now enriched by lots of digital elements such as images, embed videos, comment box. These elements make the information presented becomes more attractive. One of the salient characters of online journalism is its dependency on speed in delivering information. When we talk about the emerging trends in media, we cannot afford to overlook the role of online media in changing the scenario in the context of women’s issues. The content that the online media produces reflects the pattern of value the society. The prevailing attitude of society gets revealed through the way subjects dealing with women are treated by the media (Arpita Sharma, 2012).
Media has the choice of acting as both, a protagonist and as a perpetrator-it can either reinforce the gender-based discrimination by portraying sensational and stereotypical images of women or it can provide balanced reportage that empowers women and not degrades them while exposing acts of gender-based violence. Rape cases and sexual assault cases are not a recent trend in the society but sensitive reportage and wide coverage by media while also bringing these issues forefront are relatively very new.
Gender-based violence or GBV is violence that is directed against a person because of their gender. Both women and men experience GBV but the majority of victims are women and girls. GBV and violence against women are terms that are synonymous as it is widely acknowledged that most gender-based violence is inflicted on women and girls, by men. The issue of GBV reaches every corner of the world. The numbers of women and girls affected by this problem are shocking. According to the World Health Organization’s data from 2013, one in every three women has been beaten, compelled into sex or are abused. One in five women is sexually abused as a child, according to a 2014 report.
In coverage of GVB, several stereotypes are often perpetuated by the new media. These include that rape is similar to sex, that the assailant is motivated by female lust, that the assailant is perverted, crazy or a monster, that the woman provokes rape or assault, and that only women are only victims. Scholars have found that these stereotypes and myths are pervasive in media coverage of rape and assault cases. Not only the language and the framing of the headlines but also the visuals used in the articles regarding GVB play an important role in the general perception of these issues.
In Gender-Sensitive Indicators for Media (UNESCO, 2012), under Category B- Gender Portrayal In Media Content, B1.5- Strategic Objective 5 states the indicators for the coverage of gender-based violence. Three of them are-
- Use of non-judgmental language, distinguishing between consensual sexual activity and criminal acts, and taking care not to blame the victim/survivor for the crime
2. Use of the term ‘survivor’ rather than ‘victim’ unless the violence-affected person uses the latter term or has not survived
3. Use of background information and statistics to present gender-based violence as a societal problem rather than as an individual, personal tragedy
Terms such as ‘victim’ or ‘survivor’ are often used to describe individuals who undergo these experiences. The term ‘victim’ reiterates feelings of helplessness and lack of female agency, while the term survivor connotes a sense of strength and resilience. However, the affected person should have a say in what to refer them as. The ‘victim’ terminology limits individual self-agency and identity. It is important to note that experiences of violence do not define the individual, but rather are a piece of a larger self-identity. Such labels focus on experiences of violence and presuppose an individual’s inability to change or undergo any personal development to transform their identity into a peaceful, empowered personality.
Images of sexual violence in the media often depicts women as covering their face, being silenced by looming hands, teary faces, large shadows near the woman, are some of the visual examples. These images not only fuel the stereotypes of women as helpless and weak, but also these images are also extremely triggering for the survivors of sexual assault and rape.
When media reports women who have been assaulted or raped as nothing but victims, society can disengage and fail to take the issue as a broader societal issue and fail to take responsibility for any individual or group action to change it. It is crucial then for journalists to report on GBV in an informed way and to have a good theoretical understanding of the roots of these gender based violence’s and what needs to change in society. Otherwise, they can do harm by perpetuating patriarchal stereotypes and falsehoods.