City Life,  Pop Culture

Reporting on rape – choose to be on a need to know basis

I’ve been thinking really long and hard about this – where do we draw the learn between access to information and press freedom vs plain ole’ voyeurism (or, my partner calls it, the “insatiable lust for gory details”)?

I’m referring specifically to the issue of rape and how it is currently reported in our country.

At the moment, sadly, we have quite a few high-profile cases and news reports involving rape. The ongoing ‘Sunday Rapist’ court case is one such story, the rape of an 82 year-old woman in Swayimane, KwaZulu-Natal another.

And then there is the interview with Debbie Calitz and Bruno Pelizzari a few weeks back – they were kidnapped by Somali pirates and kept as hostages for 20 months. Carte Blanche’s Devi Govender controversially asked Debbie Calitz if she had been raped. The horror was apparent on Debbie’s face. The question was clearly invasive. Personally, I felt it went beyond what we needed to know.

And this is the issue – how much do we need to know about the detail. The act of raping someone is a terrible  physical, emotional and mental assault on any woman or man. Any which way you cut it, it’s invasive and strips you of that one thing we all hold dear – our right to choose what we do with our bodies. The act in itself sets out to debase the individual being assaulted. Full stop. No amount of sharing the detail with the public makes the terrible deed any better or worse. Rape – no matter the detail – is shit.

So what purpose does it then serve but to put someone through a terrible public ordeal? Hey, I’m not a prude by any measure, but I am generally not happy discussing the intimate details of my sexuality with the world (unless I expressly decide that I want to do so and it is not decided for me). When it’s a sexual assault perpetrated against me, good grief…even less so.

More and more, I find that the media are reporting on rape and victims of rape  in alarming detail (and I use the term ‘victim’ very carefully as I don’t mean to give the rapist any power by calling someone a ‘victim’).

The media, who have become in some ways the moral harbingers in our society due to our politicians playing musical chairs with corruption, might have a duty of care to report what is factually accurate and true. However, a really skilled journalist and editor will know the line. The line of ‘need to know’ and sensitivity vs feeding the voyeurism monster.

I suppose this is my personal opinion and it’s quite a debate – whether the media should report all detail or if they should show sensitivity to the person assaulted and not air all the gory and really unnecessary info. It’s a debate I’d like to have…I would like someone to tell me how this adds to the value of the story.

Maybe it’s because we have become a generation that is completely desensitised and the only way we sit up and take note of atrocities is if the really graphic details are laid before us. Maybe the mere mention of a rape does not cultivate the same shock and horror as it use to. If this is the case, it’s a really sad day for us and I prefer to stay optimistic about our country and where we’re going.

In the meantime, with deference to those women and men who have been through these terrible ordeals, I am not linking to any of the afore-mentioned articles. You know why. It offers way too much detail. And you really don’t need to know.

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