How the irresponsible sharing of videos and images of sexual violence dehumanizes survivors

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On the dreary winter morning of January 27, a disturbing video went viral on social media. A woman dressed in a pink salwar marched on Kasturba Nagar Road in Delhi; she wore a garland of chappals around the neck, the face blackened, the clothes torn. The woman was would have abducted and gang-raped on Republic Day; nine of the 11 people charged with the crime have been arrested. The Parade of Shame took place the next day; people cheered her on while others in the crowd slapped and humiliated her.

Documentation of this forever sits on social media right now.

Whenever similar instances of bloody violence occur, we are consumed with legitimate shock and rage. Social media provides plenty of information to piece together a brutal picture. But these elements are rooted in our daily consumption of cultural content; a “shocking” video spaced between five different memes. This raises the question of the role of audiovisual media – looping images or videos – in shaping the discourse on rape.

Arguably, this dissonance in the seriousness of the problem is a familiar ethical concern. “Are the images of violence and death too painful to publish or too important to ignore? request an article by Nieman, ostensibly. Some iconic images – the Syrian child lying dead on the beach, the “falling man” who jumped from a World Trace Center tower; a 9-year-old girl fleeing an attack in Vietnam – nitpicked at the ethics of publishing any imagery of violence. “Part of their power comes precisely from the fact that they show usually hidden moments of pain and death. It’s hard to look at these images, and hard to look away.

The argument for using any audio-visual medium was to convey the brutality of the incident in graphic detail; all the chestnut of pictures speaking (or shouting, sometimes) louder than words may not be trivial wisdom. “You have to force yourself to look” wrote Julian Reichelt, editor of bild.de. “Without images, the world would be more ignorant, the needy even more invisible, more lost… Photographs are the cries of the world. In the present rape case, the appalling treatment of the woman afterwards – a symbol of an unwavering rape culture – was only brought to light through the video.

There is also an element of citizen action built in here, which could be used to benefit the cause of documenting marginalized narratives. In recent years, crimes of police brutality, caste violence, or state-sanctioned violence have been recorded by locals and shared online to draw attention. They paint a chilling toll on crime while identifying the perpetrators and demanding action. During the Tripura riots in November, for example, several social media reports and videos described widespread violence, deaths and rapes – all refuted by the government. In a way, these videos and images record a crime for posterity to forever haunt a national conscience.

At the same time, there is still an unsavory voyeuristic element to this sexual violence message. Assessing the ethics of images of violence and death depends on how they are framed; if they dehumanize their subjects. This concern is amplified when acts of violence are consumed on social media as “content”. It’s one thing to debate the extent of graphic visuals on news channels and media reports; another to reflect on the effect of a stream of videos and images. It can be said that rape is certainly not a crime like any other – “because it involves sexual relations or rather a perverse form of sexual relations”, an article argued. Visual descriptions of women – stripped naked, raped, exhibited naked – are often voyeuristic in nature.


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Moreover, “not only do they serve no useful purpose from a journalistic or legal point of view (a rape is a rape even if it is not known exactly how it happened) but they also constitute an attack on private life”.

The element of “voyeuristic sadism” was Noted by researcher Jesse Dickinson. She says, “We can get pleasure by ‘grasping others as passive objects and subjecting them to a controlling gaze…The source of pleasure is not just controlling but judging and indeed punish or pardon the guilty object of our gaze. Graphic reporting of rape unknowingly serves the intent to “invasively know,” “judge and forgive” the “guilty” person; or to see and “save the woman”. But in the social media landscape, they also risk being transformed into cultural commodities of easy convenience, which become viral trends and are driven by algorithms and further fuel a spirit of triviality.

In March last year, a woman was raped in Madhya Pradesh and parade in the streets along with the accused. The video, of people chanting “Bharat Mata ki Jai” in the background, quickly went viral. This was another case where voyeurism prevailed.

“No one would believe that as a society we trivialize and normalize the occurrence of sex crimes, but it is,” he added. argued Samantha Kolb in Daily Orange. “Unfortunately, we live in a time when students can registration and posting a video of a classmate lying naked and unconscious while being repeatedly raped. The victim of the aforementioned incident was only 16 years old.

In some cases, the concern is also to spread false information. In 2019, the rape and murder of a two-year-old girl in Aligarh was widely reported; the frame was one of two Muslim men brutally mutilating the Hindu girl’s body. “It turns out that most of this never happened… Unverified sensationalism and unnecessary communalization aside, the name of the underage victim was aggressively published and shared in headlines at all levels; her photos and a video of her before the incident went viral and were widely used – all as the media believed it was a rape case,” The Swaddle reported at the time. Next, the lack of context on social media is an untamed problem when it comes to discussing sexual violence. In 2015, the Supreme Court took note rape videos; noting the blind circulation of a video on WhatsApp that the authors themselves had recorded and shared.

Additionally, some research argued that the easy and ubiquitous presence of graphic content on social media tends to “numb” the public to tragedy – normalizing it in a way.

Of course, social media cannot be the scapegoat in the beastly life cycle of rape culture. But the nature of sensationalist news and the reach of social media means that any graphic document of such violence has a longer, seemingly endless life. Some media ethicists recommend that “organizations use language very intentionally and that campaign and organizational messaging be pre-tested and edited to minimize the possibility of unintended misuses of crime prevention language. sexual abuse”.

In other cases, a journalist request“Should a graphic image be added to a tweet, when there is so little opportunity to provide context? Should social media companies disable video autoplay to avoid inadvertently displaying videos to snuff in people’s timeline?”

These are difficult questions to formulate, even more difficult to answer. But wisdom is in scratching the deep – not to come to a conclusion, but to learn and do better.

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