sexual violence

Offending Publications in the Aftermath of Sexual Violence

Recently, a Uganda national newspaper published a story about a seven-year-old girl that had been defiled by burglars. It reported that the burglars broke into her parents’ home, stole property and unfortunately also defiled the minor. Such a story definitely gains social sympathy and to a greater extent, must be published because it exposes the vices in a society and also allows responsible authorities to act immediately.

However, looking at the pictorial coverage, this respected newspaper published a photo of the victim/girl by simply erasing her optical identity and left the rest of her body to be easily seen and identified by persons who know her. The paper published a full view of her parents, leaving little imagination to the identity of the victim. To the reader, this emotional picture may create sentiments. However, to the victim, this picture is a memory of abuse.

We, strongly criticize its publication that tainted the victim.

A brief look at the law on publication:

Press and Journalist Act, cap.105 & the issue of consent

The Press and Journalist Act 1995, cap 105 allows for publication of newspapers under section 2. In fact, freedom of expression in media is or ought to be allowed. However, it must be done cautiously.

The publication may be in print and circulated among the public. This print includes pictorial material that is subject to abuse and one whose storage is often durable. Journalists have a right to publish, yes; but they must refine what is or is not defamatory and abusive, especially to children. Such is the compliance provided for in section 3 of the Act.

The issue of consent cannot be over emphasized.  It is only fair that despite their right to access information, publishers must first seek voluntary consent to use photos of victims: their privacy and dignity being priority in these circumstances.

The right to privacy

The right to privacy is a well-defined constitutional right in Uganda under article 24 (on respect for human dignity and protection from inhuman treatment); article 27 (on the right to privacy); article 34 (on the right of children) and article 41 (on the right to access to information).

Article 24 on respect for human dignity and protection from inhuman treatment provides that:

‘No person shall be subject to any form of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

It is a fundamental human right to be granted privacy.  For minors, this degree of protection is even higher under the ‘best interest’ principle governing cases involving underage victims. In article 34, established rights of children are specifically granted.  Among the rights enshrined therein is clause (1) which states that:

‘(1) Subject to laws enacted in their best interests, children shall have the right to know and be cared for by their parents or those entitled by law to bring them up.’ (Emphasis mine).

Looking at the emphasis above, it’s prudent to notice the level of protection given to children; it is enormous.  Subjecting a child/minor to the psychological trauma of public shame through offending publications is a form of abuse of children.  News reports or not, adults must separate coverage for public consumption from child abuse. A deformed picture of the victim’s identity, thereby abuse of their dignity!

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights under Article 12 also emphasizes the right to privacy. France, for instance, prohibits publication of images of a person, dead or alive, without that person’s consent.  In fact, the French Law/Court handles many suits on defamation because of the extreme measures given to protect one’s privacy and dignity. Why shouldn’t children receive this same protection?

Why it is important to protect the dignity of a sexually assaulted victim.

Sexual violence, regardless of the age, gender, race, etc. of the victim is horrific.

To protect victims of sexual offence, priority should be given to their privacy and need to heal from the trauma. Allowing the victim privacy is one way of letting them heal, on their terms and away from publication that may trigger painful memories.

To enable authorities apprehend and punish sexual offenders while encouraging victims to testify without fear.

The law should be able to not only protect the victim but also punish those that abuse the victim. Article 34 (7) of the Constitution of Uganda mentions that; ‘the law shall accord special protection to orphans and other vulnerable children.’ This particular provision re-affirms the importance of protecting vulnerable children, including victims of sexual offences and punishing offenders accordingly.  Therefore, publication or not, the need to protect the privacy of a victim who is a minor by law is top priority.

Allow the victim deal with the incident with privacy and in company of persons available to help them through the ordeal. Giving the victim dignity enables that victim to deal with the incident without aftermath discussions, be they positive or negative from the public. The victim needs time to digest the incident and work through healing from its effects. Publishing the victim’s identity without the victim’s voluntary consent is derogatory and usually prolongs the social abuse most victims experience.

To avoid consequential self-harm resulting from psychological torture. In today’s digital era, anyone with a smart gadget can record an incident. More so, that person has the ability to share the recorded clip to millions of people. The audience for these clips is vast and unpredictable. Plus, storage of these clips is eternal, so to say. Who knows what would become of the victim if he/she comes across the painful evidence of something that he/she experienced in the past and may want erased?

Conclusion

Yes, media and the public have a right to access to information as given by Article 41 of the Constitution. Media also has the right to report news to the public.  However, pictorial coverage that is offending to the victims, (especially minors) should be checked, if not erased entirely.  The long-term effects are not worth an accolade to a photo-journalist at the expense of the victim’s dignity.

BY ATUHAIRWE AGRACE

This article appears in our law newsletter Vol 2 Issue 3 of February  23rd  2018. To receive The Deuteronomy in real time, click HERE

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