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Photographing rape victims

In New York Times today, there is an article on violence in Sudan Truce Is Talk, Agony Is Real in Darfur
There is a photograph of a rape victim with the caption
“Fatouma Moussa, 18, was raped by janjaweed militiamen as she returned from selling firewood. They killed another woman, she said.”

Now I understand the issue of giving voice/face to the voiceless, but my question is about double standards of the NYT policy. NYT or for that matter most of the American media does not even publish rape victims’ name, not to mention their photographs, so as to protect their identity. As an example, nobody has published the recent Duke university rape scandal victims’ name or photograph. How come this apparent respect for human dignity does not extend to people from other countries, especially for the developing and underdeveloped countries? I had the same problem when I saw dead bodies from Tsunami in Asia compared to not showing dead mutilated bodies from WTC terror or the New Orleans hurricane. I have the same issue when I see dead bodies of Taliban soldiers (ex-Magnum Luc Delahye even sells them as art in galleries) but not dead American soldiers.

by robert stone at 2006-05-14 14:42:27 UTC (ed. Mar 12 2008 ) ny , United States | Bookmark | | Report spam→

1. American love law suits, no chance a Sudanese or Taliban will ever sue the NYT for this.
2. Americans are usualy much more sensitive to 1 american dying or being raped than 10,000 somalis or afghanies. so they need to put a face on the drama to understand… and still..
3. to the west (hey, i didn’t say Americans) life costs less when you’re not a westerner.
4. american privacy laws don’t apply outside the US.
5. access to photograph victims is much easier in those places.
6. to quote an american journalist: “has anyone been raped and speaks english around here?” (shouted in a refugee camp) (i think it also became the name of a book)
7. i’m generalizing, and i’m French, and a lot of people are bored here (so am I) so…
LET THE BASHING BEGIN!

by [former member] | 14 May 2006 16:05 | Kabul, Afghanistan | | Report spam→
Guilad: that’s one of the most ridiculous posts I’ve read here in quite some time. Astonishing to me, with your insight, that you call yourself a “journalist.” Robert’s question is a significant one and frankly, you should be embarrassed by your rant: I am, as a member of this community. If you are bored, I suggest you re-read Pascal about the contending of sitting in a room alone: la tristesse de la solitude agrandissante de soi…..

Robert: It’s a important discussion and I’ll offer some thoughts later.
Bob

by [former member] | 14 May 2006 19:05 | Albufeira/Lisboa/The Road, Portugal | | Report spam→
Robert,
that is a really tough question, and you bring up a heck of a thorny issue. i have photographed rape victims myself, always hoping that i am doing the right thing by bringing their suffering and story into the light, as opposed to the dark where most sexual violence hides.
maybe i am, maybe i am not.
i think a key difference in the two cases you talked about is the consent of the victim. i can only assume that the victim in Michael Kamber’s excellent picture understood it was for the press and agreed to be photographed and give her name. i think the difference with, for example, the Duke lacrosse scandal is that i doubt that the victim is coming forward to the press to try and tell her story and raise awareness about an issue. she is in the middle of a whirlwind, part of a criminal investigation, busy trying to find justice in the courts. and although in my opinion the press has behaved horribly in this case anyway, it would be unconscionable for them to “out” the victim of such a private crime without her consent. things would be different i think if the victim organized a press conference or approached a journalist after it was all over to tell her story.
as for the dead body issue, you are right, there are tons of double standards at play there. on the one hand, there were plenty of dead in the photos from katrina, yet you could also argue that they made their way onto our televisions and into our newspapers because they were black. true, it is ridiculous that media outlets are so loathe to show dead american soldiers (fair enough, after allowing time for their families to be notified). i think the important thing to keep in mind in all this is the dialogue you as a photographer are trying to maintain with your reader. you can’t always say exactly what you want to them, as much as you sometimes want to beat them over the head with the horror or injustice or (inshallah) the beauty of what you see. you have to speak to them in words they can hear. and yeah, i think our editors usually sell their audience short and insult their intelligence, and i push myself for harder and more hard news pictures to be included in my edits. i think we need to try our hardest not just to shock our readers, but engage them- with pictures of the dead as well as the living.
vic

by [former member] | 15 May 2006 02:05 | San Francisco, CA, United States | | Report spam→
if the new york times publishes pictures of rape victims from outside the usa but not from within the usa then they are being racist.end of story.racism is the act of treating people differently because of their race,colour etc.

by Michael Bowring | 15 May 2006 10:05 | Belgrade, Serbia | | Report spam→
Hello —

I barely check in and post here, but this is a good question and I was just discussing it with my girlfriend, a still/video photog. The Duke case, and other comparisons, would be different in that that’s a pending lawsuit, and in line with the practice of not publishing photos of rape victims/accusers. This Sudan article is an issue story on violence, and the photo is a portrait. If it were an issue story in the US and the victim consented, I’m sure many papers would run the photo. One situation I could think of would be a story about rape, and interviews and photos with a crisis center volunteer who had been raped.

As for the other comparisons, you’re right. There is a double standard on tragedies in the West and elsewhere. And not just in the US — papers in the UK, Canada and Brazil, as well as the US, altered/cropped the Reuters photo of the Madrid train bombing to not show carnage.

by [former member] | 15 May 2006 10:05 | Chiang Mai, Thailand | | Report spam→
We have just had a very well publicised rape case in Sydney in which
the assailants (four) violently raped several teenage and young women.
One of the young women bravely consented to being photographed
to encourage other women to come forward about these men and other
rapes. It effectively changed the general perception about rape, this girl
had been a victim of a violent act yet she was not shielded nor did she hide from
being photographed. By her willingness to be SEEN she no longer bore the burden of shame
that has always been attached to rape, she showed she did not provoke or deserve
the violence that she endured and that rape is an act of violence
not a sexual act. I believe that if a victim of any violent act consents
to be photographed to participate in a story then it can be a positive thing for both the
victim and for other victims. I believe that the media does not publish such controversial
images in the west because there is a distinct distaste for anything that is not saccharine
sweet and palatable. Comfortable people don’t want to think about anything that
may make them feel more guilty for not being able to prevent acts of violence.
We like the images of the Paris Hiltons of this world because there is a certain
‘Schadenfreude’ attached to them that its OK to feel. We don’t like rape victims because
they are too confronting. I believe the young woman in Sydney is a real hero but
it was her choice to appear as well. Perhaps what this post is about though is not
photographing rape victims but the NYT editorial policy. Well thats about freedom of the press
and I am not up for a rant just now!

by lisa hogben | 16 May 2006 04:05 | Sydney, Australia | | Report spam→

I agree with your points Robert. Have you thought of writing a letter to the Editor asking for an explanation into the editorial process that was behind the image?


by Thomas Pickard | 16 May 2006 07:05 | Male', Maldives | | Report spam→
Rape. It’s pretty messy in that individuals and communities are often ill equipped to cope with the impacts. We often lack the vocabulary of understanding which can enable us to come to terms with the violence, either as victims or as the communities supporting victims.

I’m going to agree with Victor that consent is the key to publishing a story about a rape victim. Rape is about power, it is about not having control of the most intimate decisions we believe we can make about our bodies. By reporting on a story without a subject’s consent we seize the power from them in their most trying moment; when they have already lost control and are desperate to find anything, any semblance of control they can have again.

True, as journalists we have a responsibility to report the news for the betterment of society; this may mean covering stories as sensitively as possible but we still might cause emotional harm a rape victim.

However I think we should stop right here and give pause. WE are part of THEM. We have been raped, we have been violated, we have been subject to incest, date rape, stranger rape, molestation, you name it.

We are a community just like any other. Statistics are…well…statistics. Faceless and highly subject to interpretation. But I think it’s pretty easy to go with the findings (in the United States) and say that one in five women have been raped. One in 13 men have been raped. The greatest percentage occur before the age of 18—as children—the next age group is 18-24.

If I do an even gender split of the 8,837 members on this list I can say that statistically 883 women on this list have been raped and 340 men on this list have been raped. (what is rape? forced or non-consenting sex of any kind. for instance, if your date is drunk and incapable of saying yes or no, don’t have sex).

If we as journalists hope to address this issue we first have to understand it is our own issue. We must be aware how it affects us, either as survivors of rape or the friends and family of those who’ve been raped.

In an online forum about climbing in the Cascades—where I live—a guy just posted he and his partner were swept off a north face by an avalanche. Still tied together, they were pummeled and shot off a cliff of by the force of the snow. Only their efforts and sheer luck enabled them to walk away from it. Both are suffering PTSD but are using the forum, and their friends, to cope.

Can you imagine a rape victim being able to turn to his or her community to do the same thing? What if someone on this list wanted to talk about his or her rape with respect to media…would anyone? Would someone feel they could chronicle their own forensic exam and trial just like Ray Farkas did for his brain surgery on Mediastorm.org? Does the community support this?

Whether or not Michael Kamber got the consent of his subject is important but I feel it isn’t the core issue. Nor is it the NY Times editors exploiting a woman from a war-torn developing nation. They are fundamental journalistic ethics discussions but I believe what should matter to us, first, is what do WE do when faced with someone in our community who has been raped. Do we listen? Do we believe? Do we then do our best to be supportive and helpful—but not controlling—of that person’s quest to heal?

It will be through our non-journalistic actions in our communities that we can help create a better understanding of the impacts of rape. As we change our own attitudes, so too will change the perceptions of our journalistic community. From there, as journalists, it will be possible to use our tools and connections to story-tell for the greater good.

By they way, an agency I work with has the same Sudanese woman, in the same pose, with the same caption but shot from a different angle. So she very well may have given consent, the aid agency PR folks may have brought in the journalists, and she may feel that she is sharing her story to illustrate the plight of all the citizens who have been displaced, raped, or killed because of the conflict. But who’s to say except those who were there.

by Tim Matsui | 16 May 2006 12:05 | Seattle, United States | | Report spam→
Lisa, your comment that rape is a violent act and not a sexual one is spot on. We do not talk of children suffering acts of sex
rather we say acts of abuse. The Australian woman surely made a huge impact by comming forward, and those comments reminded me of some
of the most powerfull imagery around sexual abuse – Antoine D’Agata did a story around prostitution in Vietnam(?) in which he photographed
you boys who had been raped or abused: all shot from behind with their backs bare, the 12 or so images, shown in one panel, concealed everything
except impact, which was surely the intention.

simon

by Simon Anstey | 16 May 2006 12:05 | Copenhagen, Denmark | | Report spam→
I got a response from the New York Times foriegn Desk.
I really appreciate the fact that they gave this issue some consideration.+
<<<

Dear Mr. Stone,
Your letter was referred to me, the foreign editor. Thank you for
raising an important point, one we here at the foreign desk and the picture
desk have given intense consideration. In fact, we apply the same standard
to showing victims of rape overseas as in the United States: we only run
their pictures or their names with their explicit permission. Our
photographer in Africa obtained the victim’s permission in this case before
photographing her. We have also published pictures where victims have agreed to be
photographed but have asked to be in shadow. If rape victims are underage
and their parents have agreed, we take pictures that would make them
unrecognizable. In most cases we restrict the use of these images on
the web site, because of our concern, given the spread of the Internet even
in underdeveloped countries, that someone they know might see the picture
on the web.
We have in fact run pictures of rape victims in the United States, also
with their permission: two examples supplied to me by the picture desk
are the name and picture of the Central Park jogger, after she went public;
and Kathleen Ham, who was a New York rape victim whose case was
successfully prosecuted. In terms of the Duke victim, she was named in the Raleigh
paper, but because she did not give permission, we did not name or photograph her.

Thanks again for writing.
Sincerely, Susan Chira

>>>>

by robert stone | 10 Jul 2006 04:07 | ny, United States | | Report spam→
I got a response from the New York Times foriegn Desk.
I really appreciate the fact that they gave this issue some consideration.+
<<<

Dear Mr. Stone,
Your letter was referred to me, the foreign editor. Thank you for
raising an important point, one we here at the foreign desk and the picture
desk have given intense consideration. In fact, we apply the same standard
to showing victims of rape overseas as in the United States: we only run
their pictures or their names with their explicit permission. Our
photographer in Africa obtained the victim’s permission in this case before
photographing her. We have also published pictures where victims have agreed to be
photographed but have asked to be in shadow. If rape victims are underage
and their parents have agreed, we take pictures that would make them
unrecognizable. In most cases we restrict the use of these images on
the web site, because of our concern, given the spread of the Internet even
in underdeveloped countries, that someone they know might see the picture
on the web.
We have in fact run pictures of rape victims in the United States, also
with their permission: two examples supplied to me by the picture desk
are the name and picture of the Central Park jogger, after she went public;
and Kathleen Ham, who was a New York rape victim whose case was
successfully prosecuted. In terms of the Duke victim, she was named in the Raleigh
paper, but because she did not give permission, we did not name or photograph her.

Thanks again for writing.
Sincerely, Susan Chira

>>>>

by robert stone | 10 Jul 2006 04:07 | ny, United States | | Report spam→
I think Victor and Lisa’s points are great ones and I think the reply from the Times illustrates what they are trying to say completely. All too often outsiders, most of whom have not done the hard work which they are upset about, throw hand grenades rather than thinking about the motivations behind the work that they see. As someone who has photographed rape and abuse victims in several times, I know for a fact that it is never easy. To say, “Now I understand the issue of giving voice/face to the voiceless” seems to me like a comment of someone who doesn’t really understand what that means. The fact that a rape victim in Darfur, one of the most underreported conflicts in the world, gets to tell her story to the readers of the Times is something that we should be grateful for, as many of us here know exactly how hard it is to get these stories in print. I also happen to know Michael Kamber personally and if you knew him or his work, you would understand what great care he takes in telling the stories of those people who are least heard.

On your Lightstalkers page you write : “Photographer, full of Ego and about to change the world.” I agree with the first part of the statement but not the second. Please prove me wrong.

Damaso

by [former member] | 10 Jul 2006 04:07 | NYC, United States | | Report spam→
Guilad’s post is hardly a rant. Flippant generalisation perhaps, but there’s a grain of truth in all of he says.

“As far back as the first Congo civil war of 1962, the journalist Edward Behr saw a TV newsman in a camp of violated Belgian civilians calling out: “Anyone here been raped and speak English?” In other words, it was not enough to have suffered: one must have suffered and be able to express one’s suffering in the language of the journalist." The Hindu

by Christopher Wise | 10 Jul 2006 09:07 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Guilad’s post is hardly a rant. Flippant generalisation perhaps, but there’s a grain of truth in all of he says.

“As far back as the first Congo civil war of 1962, the journalist Edward Behr saw a TV newsman in a camp of violated Belgian civilians calling out: “Anyone here been raped and speak English?” In other words, it was not enough to have suffered: one must have suffered and be able to express one’s suffering in the language of the journalist." The Hindu

by Christopher Wise | 10 Jul 2006 09:07 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Damaso,
I have no interest in flaming back at you or making this post a personal attack.
You seem to be too defensive about your work, but sorry, I as a reader/viewer have to
understand the news how it is presented to me, and not how you got it. There are too many
examples of war photographers who couldnt care less about human beings but care for the
greatest pictures. If I sound cynical, too bad. Dont blame me, blame those who created
this situation.

I have worked with underprivileged people and totally believe in raising their
issues in the mainstream media. It just pisses me off when the media in USA has double standards
about representation. Too much bullshit about what should be seen and what should be sanitised.
Something very different from other parts of the world. On top of it, we are also
made to believe that the press is free. I dont even know how much of the news is actually
corporate/government controlled and how much is self-censored.

It makes me mad when I see National Geographic showing Untouchablity in India
but not the still remnant racism in America. It makes me mad to see dead bodies
of Tsunami victims in Asia but not from Katrina on the front page of Newspapers.
Why are images from underdeveloped countries always so graphic but not from
the developed countries? Doesnt all this smell some kind of stereotype?

by robert stone | 10 Jul 2006 15:07 (ed. Jul 11 2006) | ny, United States | | Report spam→
Well, we should put the NYT example apart and debate on the case in general, which I think would be a more fruitful debate.

There has been an ethical debate among some journalists (not from the mainstream media for sure…) in Turkey on how to report rape cases, especially those involving underaged ones. In my opinion the identity of the victim should be protected of course, but the photo taken might show the victim unrecognizable; as otherwise – like it was criticized in issues in Turkey – the display of the victim and detailed story on the incident could turn from a “journalistic story” into a “porn material” possibly inciting some people, which would mean to add fuel to the flames of a social drama… On the other hand, I must recognize that the “exhibitional” display of rape stories by the mainstream media in Turkey has also leaded to raise high concerns among the society on pedophilia and children exploitation, which is maybe the sole positive outcome of the phenomenon.

Meanwhile, I must admit that Guilad Kahn’s posting was too harsh but not totally wrong; I am working in a news agency in Istanbul, but never went to conflict zones; so I can’t comment on the attitude of different reporters on the field as I never met anyone of them, but I don’t think it is fundamental for understanding the mentality and line of the media in general.

It is true that the rape of a Rwandan will never have the same impact on any Western country’s society than the rape of a Westerner. To explain this situation is not very hard but versatile. When debating, we must consider these points; the alienation of the individual towards itself and the society, the dehumanization of the other, Oriantalism (referring to Edward Said’s book of course), the Western dominative cultural ideology, theory of Imperialism, etc… And we must not also forgive the inuring effect of the media on people amid constant and intensifying “bombardment” of information today.

Well, a quiet controversial subject…

by Tamer Bakar | 17 Dec 2006 14:12 | Istanbul, Turkey | | Report spam→
“I had the same problem when I saw dead bodies from Tsunami in Asia compared to not showing dead mutilated bodies from WTC terror or the New Orleans hurricane”
QUOTE from Original Post

The NYT did run a huge front page photo of a corpse floating in the river in New Orleans, whiich recently won an award – but then again poor, disenfranchised people that were living in a poor under-developed State.
To me the most shocking abuse was the pictures of the torture victims at Abu Ghraib, not only were these people horribly abused once but over and over again by having their pictures shown to the world in demeaning, humiliating postions, half of them stripped naked, some clearly recognisable. Did anyone ask them if they consented to their pictures being published. I bet if it was tortured people from the West this would never have been allowed even with blacked out faces & bodies. In fact the US did cry Geneva Convention Violation when 3 US soldiers were filmed while in captivity, they were also fully dressed, & not being tortured. True, people needed to know about the torture and see images to believe it, but why not make completely unrecognisable the faces and naked bodies?

by Angela Cumberbirch | 17 Dec 2006 21:12 (ed. Dec 18 2006) | Manhattan, United States | | Report spam→
Ange,
I also do not recall, except for one bloody leg from a “jumper”,any pics of dead bodies at the WTC. Even in the TV independent-documentaries that we all saw there was no footage of the dead bodies of the poor souls who jumped into eternity . The excuse from the video and stills people was that it was too horrible and didn’t respect the dead. Or something to that effect. For the most part the jumpers were the only visual human indicators. All the rest became dust. Those are the pics that were never published and should have been only to wake up more people.
g.

by Gregory Sharko | 17 Dec 2006 22:12 | Brooklyn, New York, United States | | Report spam→
Sorry I got off the rape subject. Maybe what I was thinking was that rape is an invisible crime to see and therefore most difficult to photograph. Showing the victim in the media is like raping her twice. When media had an abundance of VISUAL content on 9/11 they chose to be very selective with the images. Sorry…so did a lot of photogs..
G

by Gregory Sharko | 17 Dec 2006 23:12 | Brooklyn, New York, United States | | Report spam→
Michael, if you agree that the USA is comprised people of many races, including people of the same race as those in Darfur, how can you say the NY Times policy is racist?

by Barry Milyovsky | 18 Dec 2006 02:12 | a very small island, United States | | Report spam→
Many say that the Hezbollah won the war in Lebanon by propaganda; with the pictures of dead children, with high graphic content pictures published in the media. That’s true, but the only way to win a war of propaganda is not to publish high graphic content images of casualties caused by the “enemy”. Just as Boaz Ganor tells in the chapter about media control in his book called “The Counter-Terrorism Puzzle”, the display of such high graphic content spreads to the masses more fear than hate for the attacker; which he says means the picture to turn into the attackers’ propaganda.

I think it is because of this that the NYT all along with the other US media do publish few pictures from the 9/11 for example.

by Tamer Bakar | 18 Dec 2006 07:12 | Istanbul, Turkey | | Report spam→

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Participants

robert stone, Photog robert stone
Photog
Ny , United States
Michael Bowring, photographer Michael Bowring
photographer
Belgrade , Serbia
lisa hogben, Visualjournalist! lisa hogben
Visualjournalist!
Sydney , Australia
Thomas Pickard, Photographer Thomas Pickard
Photographer
Rarotonga , Cook Islands
Tim Matsui, Photographer Tim Matsui
Photographer
(freelance)
Seattle , United States ( SEA )
Simon Anstey, Photographer Simon Anstey
Photographer
Malmö , Sweden ( X )
Christopher Wise, Photographer/Designer Christopher Wise
Photographer/Designer
Bangkok , Thailand
Tamer Bakar, Foreign News Desk Editor Tamer Bakar
Foreign News Desk Editor
Istanbul , Turkey
Angela Cumberbirch, Photographer Angela Cumberbirch
Photographer
New York , United States
Gregory Sharko, photographer Gregory Sharko
photographer
Brooklyn, New York , United States ( JFK )
Barry Milyovsky, totally unprofessional Barry Milyovsky
totally unprofessional
(emperor of ice cream )
New York , United States


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