News / Africa

Better Coverage of Rape is Needed

Indian protesters hold placards during a protest to demand for tougher rape laws and better police protection for women, outside the Parliament in New Delhi, India, April 22, 2013.
Indian protesters hold placards during a protest to demand for tougher rape laws and better police protection for women, outside the Parliament in New Delhi, India, April 22, 2013.

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua
A recent editorial in the Journal for Public Health calls on the media to do a better job of reporting on sexual violence against women. It says, too often, the media focus on sensational crimes and fail to reveal the full scope of the problem.


Last December, a young woman in India was fatally gang raped. In February, a teenage girl in South Africa was gang raped and mutilated. She also died of her injuries. In March, in India, a Swiss tourist was ganged raped in front of her husband and in April a four year old girl died from injuries after she was raped. These and other horrific sexual assaults received a lot of international media coverage.

The United Nations says hundreds of thousands of cases of male-female rape - or attempted rape - are reported to police every year. But experts believe that figure is far below the actual number of attacks because many go unreported out of fear of stigma or retaliation.

Citing World Bank data, the U.N. says that women – aged 15 to 44 – are “more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria.”

Dr. Janice Du Mont, a scientist at the Women’s College Research Institute in Toronto, Canada, and Dr. Deborah White of Trent University wrote an editorial about rape for the Journal of Public Health. It’s titled Sexual violence: what does it take for the world to care about women? Du Mont said that the media do not give an accurate picture of how pervasive the problem is.

“So much of the recent – and I guess past media coverage, as well – of sexual assaults seems so skewed. For example, the Western world – Canada, the United States, et cetera – there’s been this tendency to focus in on cases that occur in other countries, which is problematic. Rape is not just India’s shame. It occurs everywhere, you know, regardless of culture or socio-economic status.”

Du Mont said the media are drawn to particular types of rape cases.

“These are the more shocking cases. So cases in which women are gang raped or raped by more than one assailant, savagely beaten. Or more recently in terms of coverage in the Western world, it’s cases in which women are sexually assaulted while unconscious, or near unconsciousness, and then the assaults photographed and further exploited on social media. You know, these cases are not really representative of the full sort of realities of sexual assault, especially in non-conflict settings,” she said.

It’s much more common, she said, for women to be sexually assaulted by a single male that they know – husbands, boyfriends, other family members, friends, neighbors and acquaintances. These attacks, she says, often occur in private settings. Du Mont says she understands that the media will choose to report what they deem “newsworthy.”

“I guess the point we would like to make is that these other more common forms of sexual assault that may not be deemed newsworthy have a huge toll on the individual and society as a whole. You know, have immediate and lingering effects. They result in a lot of pain and suffering, unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections. Women may become depressed or anxious, attempt suicide, miss school. There are costs to the medical and mental healthcare system, police and investigative costs. In some jurisdictions, women are forced to marry the assailant or they’re killed in the name of honor.”

Women do not have to be killed or savagely beaten for rapes to take a toll. She said the problem is made worse by ignorance, myths and stigma.

“I think it’s these pervasive negative attitudes and stereotypes about women who are raped and rape, in general. This huge rape mythology that women ask to be raped. They deserve to be raped. Women lie about rape. And we need to challenge those attitudes, but also practices and policies that, first, excuse violence by men and, secondly, that disparage and denigrate women,” she said.

The Journal of Public Health editorial quotes former Canadian journalist Dr. Shannon Sampert of the University of Winnipeg. She said, “Journalists do not operate in a vacuum. They are subjected to the same myths and stereotypes to which the rest of society is exposed.” She added, “Journalists work in an environment that requires that stories are novel, contentious and scandalous.”

In 2011, The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that nearly one in five women surveyed said they had been raped or were victims of attempted rape.

Du Mont said, “We know that sexual assault is really under reported. In Canada, for example, we haven’t had a really good national population-based survey for some time. But we did have one back in 1993 that was replicated in many other different countries globally. And it was found that 39 percent of Canadian women had experienced a sexual assault since age 16. But when they asked these women about reporting those sexual assaults to the police only six percent of those sexual assaults had been reported.”

Du Mont and White write that “it is incumbent upon those…in the field of women’s health to assist journalists in more accurately reflecting the true nature and multitudinous psychological, physical, social and economic costs of all types of sexual violence.”

“It is about exerting power and control over somebody else. It’s not related to sex. It’s related to abuse of power and control,” said Du Mont.

Rape also has become a weapon of war. The U.N. says hundreds of thousands of women in the eastern DRC have been victims of sexual violence. During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, it’s estimated up to 500,000 women may have been raped and up to 50,000 during the Bosnian conflict.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs