Nkem Agunwa, Africa Project Director at WITNESS

Starrys Obazei 

STER is an acronym for an advocacy that is determinedly steered to end rape in Nigeria. Owned by WITNESS, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), STER means ‘Stand To End Rape!

From their strong abhorrence of rape and its disparaging effects on victims/survivors, STER wants to change how journalists inform readers about the narrative of this destructive incidence of rape.

This is just the beginning as WITNESS cares a lot for the feelings of rape victims. And starting from the way the narratives are written, WITNESS is out to bring comfort and solace to rape victims.

Journalists were tutored to observe some ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ in their narratives.

Here are just a few from STER’s digital brochure:

Dos – “Ensure to use language that accurately conveys the gravity of sexual assault. Make it clear that sexual assault is violent and nonconsensual.46 If there is a valid need to describe the specifics, ensure that they speak to the violent nature of the act, but avoid needlessly including salacious details of the assault.”

Don’ts – “DON’T Downplay the violence of sexual assault or suggest that some forms of assault are more serious. For example, “The survivor was unharmed.” Or “The survivor was not physically hurt.”

“Additionally, do not use euphemisms or gentle words to describe sexual violence. The use of gentle words implies consent on the part of the victim/survivor. Euphemisms: “engaging in” or “sex scandal”, “having carnal knowledge of.” Gentle language: “fondle” or “caress”, among others, call the violence out as it is.

“In the case study referenced here, the author used the incorrect term “defile” to report the sexual molestation committed by the perpetrator. It is pertinent that the right terms are used in the reportage of cases. It would have been more ideal for the author to use the term “sexually molested a child” to convey the gravity of the crime committed by the perpetrator, and also draw attention to the fact that a minor was sexually violated.

“Furthermore, the word “defile” paints the picture that victims/survivors are “completely damaged” by rape. SGBV victims/survivors already risk facing stigma from family members and society. You do not want to further compound that problem by causing more stigmatization.

“Children should be referred to as minors and not “underage”. Using the word “underage” undermines the gravity of the crime – especially as it is not explicitly stated that the victims are children. (see definition of SGBV and related terms section)”

The don’ts are definitely more than the dos, and this is where much care is needed.

However, this new education is not for journalists alone as it also applies to the entire fabrics of Nigerian society, even churches.

And yesterday, August 23, 2002, a seminar was held at exotic Liligate Hotel in Lekki Phase 1 and almost in a heart to heart manner, WITNESS team led by the Africa Project Coordinator, wowed the journalists by vividly and convincingly opening their eyes to a lot of negative ways the stories have been turning out mainly against victims of rape.

Rape is a sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) and writing the stories with biases against the victims were proved to be morally, professionally, even legally wrong.

Going into the archives, some rape stories were unearthed for analysis in view of the new realities on reportage.

Balancing the stories from the angle of perpetrators and victims was emphasized as being vital in reportage.

At the end of the seminar, some ‘re-write’ assignments from published rape stories were given to the journalists divided into four groups.

The results were good and interesting. One journalist said that gentlemen of the press must adopt “learn, unlearn and relearn” process in their editorial profession as regards reporting rape.

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