Covering Rape

Been several weeks already since tabloids had their front pages splashed with headlines saying that some members of the Philippine National Football team or the Azkals were involved in a rape incident.

Four members of the team were named by the tabloids as well as some mainstream news media outlets who also jumped into the fray. The four football players denied the allegations saying that they were not involved with any rape incident. One of them even said that they hardly even have time outside their training and practices considering the matches they’ve got lined up.

Days after the story went out, a TV journalist interviewed the supposed alleged victim, who later said that she was preoccupied with what happened to her career options after she was supposedly dragged into the controversy.

After that, the same alleged victim had another interview where she wished the Azkals good luck in their upcoming game. She also said that she and her lawyer were looking at legal options they might take against those who took her out of the fashion show.

Yesterday, in all her glory, the alleged victim came out in a showbiz talk show and related her said of the story. It appeared that she had no idea how she was dragged into the controversy. She even said that she didn’t know where it came from. She said that she came out because she felt harassed by how people were now treating her after she was tagged as the rape victim.

The question still remains: Was she raped? The answer: No one knows for sure. Only the victim knows if she was really raped or not.

What made the incident a circus was how the news organizations approached it. It would seem that some, maybe out of distorted excitement or the malicious intent to sell more papers, jumped on the issue forgetting the usual considerations in covering rape incidents or allegations.

Back then, whenever I encounter a alleged rape story my first instinct would always be to check whether the victim has lodged a complaint against the suspect/s in the nearest police station or social welfare office.

If the victim has not reported it to the police station or the nearest social welfare office, then as a journalist seeking the truth and in the interest of according the victim the necessary protection accorded by law, it would be essential to bring the victim to the nearest police station or social welfare office.

In police stations, rape cases are referred to the Women’s and Children’s Concerns Desk or WCCD officer. The officer (usually female) would then inform the victim of his/her rights and the necessary steps which must be undertaken so that he/she can be assisted and protected.

The usual initial procedure involves documenting the basic facts of the incident as well as having the victim (accompanied by the WCCD officer) undergo a medical examination in the nearest public or private hospital. The findings would then be used as supplement to the report which will be filed at the police station and later at the local prosecutor.

In cases where the rape has occurred in intermittent periods for a length of time, the victim undergoes the same procedure with his/her testimony inclusive of the time when the initial abuse occurred up to the time it last happened.

The more difficult cases are those where the victim has mixed feelings towards the suspected sexual abuser. Usually this happens with female children and young teens who have been raped by their fathers for some time.

The victims are mostly led to believe by the perpetrator that there is nothing wrong with the sexual act that he is making her engage in. By the time the victim feels being violated, she struggles with herself and the notion given to her that there is nothing wrong with what is being done to her.

It is in a case like this when the findings of the WCCD officer or a social worker and the medical examination of the victim would shed more light on the incident rather than the actual testimony of the abused.

I have covered rape incidents before. Some involving child victims as young as 5 years old and some cases with suspects as old as 72 years old. And the circumstances vary from case to case, with the condition of the victim, as well as the suspect, differing from one incident to another. It is in trying to establish the facts of the incident which necessitates that there be certain standards which need to be satisfied before a rape case is reported.

Lastly, whenever you interview a rape victim, specially if the incident has yet to be filed in court, ethics implore you to protect the identity of the victim (and in some cases even that of the suspect/s). That is why journalists are supposed to use aliases instead of the real names of the victims in the stories. And yes, the victims’ faces should be blurred on the TV screen and in the photos. That is just the decent thing to do.

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