Coverage of Sexual Violence Needs Sensitivity

The way the media portrays violent crimes against women and girls is perpetuating negative attitudes toward them, and a focus needs to be placed on why such crimes are so common instead of focusing on the behavior of the women, NGOs said Wednesday.

Caroline McCausland, the country director of Action Aid, told reporters and media students at a Phnom Penh workshop on coverage of such crimes that  Cambodian newspapers and news websites sometimes blame the victims of sex crimes, treat them as sex objects or publish pictures of their faces in contravention of the press law.

This could include reporting that a victim was dressed a certain way or out alone late at night, she said.

“Rarely does the media question why this is happening in Cambodia and why men feel it is ok to do this. This portrayal of women exacerbates violence against women and girls,” she added.

Statistics provided by rights group Adhoc show that there were 140 reported cases of child rape in the first nine months of the year, and 14 rape-murders during the same period.

Angie Conroy, a consultant with women’s NGO Strey Khmer, said media plays an important role in shaping attitudes toward women and girls, but that often such crimes are considered personal and private.

“Media coverage can influence individuals’ behavior against women,” she said. “Studies have found that the media can also subtly induce violence against women and girls.”

She said two ways to be more sensitive to such issues would be to conceal victims’ identities and provide information for support services alongside such stories.

Kasumi Nakagawa, a professor of gender studies at Pannasastra University, said that her students have been collecting newspaper articles published recently on issues including domestic violence, human trafficking for sexual exploitation rape of minors and adult women in a bid to analyze the portrayal of women and impact of the reporting.

Images accompanying these reports included graphic photographs of rape-murder victims, some with their bodies exposed and faces recognizable.

Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, said that the way in which such stories are reported and how the women and girls are depicted “is a very big concern for Cambodian journalists, because not many journalists follow ethical standards for respecting the privacy and dignity of the victims.”

“Some newspapers seem to be competing with one another to sell papers by selling the dignity and privacy of the victims,” he said.

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