Reporting on sexual assault

Media backgrounder – February 2012

Online content

Online and interactive media forums are often seen as promoting the uninhibited expression of beliefs and opinions.

However the anonymous nature of online discussion may pose issues when sexual assault is being discussed.

Disclosing sexual assault online

Some victim/survivors may use online forums as a mechanism for disclosing instances of sexual assault.

Example

I was a victim of partner rape - one of my children were conceived due to this. This same man was the perpetrator of several years of DV against me also - eventually I got away - to a certain degree (physically although the mental scars are still there). Another of his partners reported him raping her about 3 years ago - the police did nothing. Who knows if he is still doing this to his now partner & who ever else in between. Some rats have more than nine lives.

Posted by: Kellie of North East VIC 4:40pm May 15, 2009 Comment 52 of 52 ("Most police don't want rape by partner to be reported", Herald Sun, 15 May 2009)

Solution

Monitor posts to online sites closely. Respond quickly with details of sexual assault counselling services.

Perpetuating violence-supportive attitudes

Comments made by readers often perpetuate sexual assault stereotypes and may add little to the discussion about the story.

Example

Unfortunately, many malicious women falsely accuse men of raping them which makes it all the more harder for legitimate cases to be processed and perpetrators convicted. Presently, such malicious women are not punished for their false accusations. To curb this serious problem, which sees lives destroyed, such women should be jailed. Then legitimate cases will be taken more seriously.

Posted by: Tom 1:22pm July 15, 2008 Comment 43 of 52 (Obtained from the Herald Sun website, http://www.news.com.au/news/police-dont-want-partner-rape-reported/story-fna7dq6e-1111116918367.html)

Problem

This comment posted by Tom perpetuates the stereotype that women lie about sexual assault, reinforcing the popular idea that "scorned" women use rape allegations as a form of revenge.

Research indicates that:

  • Rates of "false" reports of rape and sexual assault are similar to those of other crimes and are far from being a "serious problem".
  • Sexual assault is acknowledged as being widely under-reported to police and other authorities.

Contrary to Tom's view, victim/survivors are overwhelmingly more likely not to report sexual assault than they are to make false accusations.

Allowing unfounded and incorrect comments to be posted without rebuttal is unhelpful and offensive to victim/survivors and continues to reinforce misconceptions while influencing others' opinions.

It is worth considering and balancing the need for public discussion on a particular event or issue with the appropriateness of allowing commentary for that story (e.g., sensitive stories, particularly in relation to sexual assault, should not be open for uncensored public commentary).

Solution

  • Monitor and moderate public discussion of sexual assault. There are many misconceptions about sexual assault that impact on victim/survivors and make it difficult for them to seek help in their recovery and to report the crime they have experienced
  • Monitor and remove posts outlining offensive and inaccurate views of victim/survivors, and sexual offences. Counteracting misinformation with accurate, evidence-based information from experts is also a useful action.
  • Readers' reporting of offensive comments is not a sufficient mechanism for monitoring posts.