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Media Coverage In Cases Of Child Sexual Abuse: An Analysis

This article delves into the profound influence of mass media on addressing the pressing issue of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) and its implications on children's rights. Mass media, encompassing broadcast platforms, print media, and awareness campaigns, plays a pivotal role in shaping public perception, policy responses, and societal discussions related to CSA. It acts as a potent intermediary, efficiently reaching a diverse audience and spotlighting often overlooked issues.

The media's coverage of CSA incidents has been known to drive public awareness, influence child protection policies, and hold accountable the relevant services. However, the article underscores the delicate balance between media portrayal and potential negative impacts on children and their families, emphasizing the media's dual role in raising awareness and affecting perceptions.

Furthermore, the article highlights the impact of mass media on children's rights, both as a potential influencer of their behavior and as a tool for educating them about their rights, safety, and healthy lifestyles. It discusses the need for constructive mass media initiatives that can provide valuable knowledge and resources to children and adolescents. Additionally, the article emphasizes that these initiatives should be accompanied by supportive services to ensure comprehensive efforts in addressing child abuse and neglect.

The article concludes by emphasizing India's unique situation, where a significant proportion of children face sexual abuse, and the critical role that media can play in raising awareness, advocating for policy changes, and fostering a safer environment for children in the country.

The significance of mass media in conveying information, raising awareness, and influencing societal perspectives cannot be overstated. Mass media serves as a means of communication that connects with both a broad audience and specific target groups. It is distinct from other forms of communication due to its ability to efficiently reach a large and diverse audience through technological devices, facilitating the rapid dissemination of messages.

Mass media serves as an intermediary for information, molding public opinion, and spotlighting events that may often go unnoticed, thereby rendering them noteworthy and impactful.Top of Form Mass media occupies a crucial position in shaping the way society perceives, thinks, and acts, while also heightening awareness about social concerns. Furthermore, it exerts an impact on how the public, professionals, and politicians respond to particular situations, particularly in the realm of preventive and intervention approaches.[1]

Mass media communication, primarily encompassing broadcast platforms such as television and radio, as well as print media like newspapers and targeted awareness campaigns, plays a substantial role in addressing specific societal issues and crimes, such as Child Sexual Abuse (CSA). Through its influential media coverage, mass media can significantly contribute to the prevention of CSA incidents. Addressing the problem of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is an urgent priority in developing nations.[2]

Crucially, there have been instances where it appeared that the media had a greater influence on child protection policies and actions compared to experts in the field. Through its reporting, analysis, and involvement in news stories related to child sexual abuse (CSA), the media brings attention to this issue, thereby increasing public awareness and bringing it to the forefront of political and social discussions. The media's coverage of the issue holds considerable sway as it elucidates the purpose and significance of child protection and safeguarding policies and services.

It is contended that media attention is vital to ensure that public attention towards children stays in the realm of political discussions and to maintain the accountability of child protection services. However, it should be noted that the way in which the media depicts child abuse and child protection can negatively impact both children and their families, despite its crucial role in keeping these issues in focus.

They underscore the media's function in bringing child protection concerns to the forefront of public consciousness and political discussions. Notably, this study has revealed how the portrayal of child protection matters in print media both mirrors the current state of affairs and can potentially influence how these issues are perceived, as well as the policies and actions taken in response to them.

Media Influence On Child Sexual Abuse

The WHO Consultation on Child Abuse Prevention has provided a definition for child abuse as:
"Child abuse or maltreatment constitutes all forms of physical and/ or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child's health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power"[3].

Child abuse is gaining more prominence as a theme in television dramas, documentaries, movies, and live theater performances. Certain productions, known for their controversial nature, have garnered attention in academic literature and have been assessed in printed publications. Television shows frequently include information on where victims and offenders or potential offenders can find assistance, and they often provide contact numbers for helplines.

The media wields a significant influence in shaping and molding the attitudes and behaviors of individuals. A publication titled "Child Abuse and the Media" emphasized the crucial role played by the media in raising society's awareness of child abuse and neglect and influencing how people respond to these issues. Notably, the media's reporting of specific child abuse cases, research findings, and intervention strategies has played a noteworthy role in this regard.

There have been instances where such media coverage of child abuse has had a positive impact on how the public, professionals, and politicians respond to the challenges faced by children and young people. Recognizing the power of media influence and knowing how to utilize it constructively can, therefore, be a valuable tool for advocates working on behalf of children, young people, and their families.[4]

Apart from news reports, feature pieces, and investigative reporting, occasional mass media initiatives include educational and preventive campaigns. These campaigns typically aim to expand the public's understanding of child abuse and neglect, shape people's perceptions of children and young individuals, and modify behaviors that either contribute to or exacerbate the issue of child abuse and neglect within our communities.

Mass media offer the opportunity to convey messages to large audiences, as well as to target specific groups. It possesses the capability to simultaneously reach numerous individuals unrelated to the sender, relying on technical devices or machinery to swiftly disseminate messages to diverse and often unknown audiences. While accessible to many, it can also be avoided.

Mass communication is orchestrated by specialists who aim to persuade potential audiences of the value of their attention and is overseen by gatekeepers who control message content. Furthermore, unlike one-on-one communication, it generates minimal and delayed feedback to senders. Consequently, a well-focused mass media campaign, educational program, or live-theatre production has the potential to effectively contribute to community education and the prevention of child abuse and neglect.

The Impact Of Media On Children And Their Rights

The influence of media advertising on youngsters has been extensively studied, and there is a growing unease regarding certain aspects of media's strong impact on the attitudes and conduct of children. In fact, television might have a more significant role in shaping social behavior than peers and educators.

However, it's worth noting that mass media, when used constructively, can help educate children and adolescents about socially acceptable methods of addressing conflicts, their rights to safety and protection from harm, the importance of maintaining healthy eating habits and lifestyles, and how to express themselves and assert their rights in a positive and acceptable manner.

Mass media educational and preventative initiatives can be tailored to reach out to children and adolescents, furnishing them with valuable knowledge and directing them to additional resources, assistance, and support options. These campaigns may also incorporate standard children's television programming as a means of outreach.

The influence of media campaigns on the experiences of survivors is occasionally highlighted in news articles about them. In a recent news story, there was a report about another victim of sexual abuse, who had been assaulted by her stepfather. It was mentioned that just before she drove over him with her car, resulting in long-lasting injuries, the victim had seen 'a televised community message about taking a stand against child abuse'.

In numerous instances involving incestuous abuse, the perpetrator, in this case, the victim's stepfather, had been released from prison after serving a sentence that, according to the victim, did not match the severity of the harm she had endured.[5]

Mass media-based educational and preventative initiatives offer governments an effective way to demonstrate proactive efforts in addressing the issue of child abuse and neglect. These campaigns have the potential to contribute not only to preventing immediate harm to children and adolescents but also to mitigating the enduring social and economic repercussions of child maltreatment. It is essential, however, that such campaigns are accompanied by supportive services for children, young people, and their families.

India, Media Reporting, And Child Sexual Abuse

India is home to approximately 19% of the global child population. As per the 2001 Census, there are around 440 million individuals in the country who are under the age of eighteen, comprising 42% of India's total population. In other words, four out of every ten people in India are children. This represents a vast number of children that the nation must cater to.

While outlining its vision for progress, development, and fairness, India has acknowledged the crucial role played by its children. When these children receive education, maintain good health, experience happiness, and have access to opportunities, they become India's most valuable human resource.[6]

In India, a significant proportion of children, specifically 53.22%, have reported experiencing various forms of sexual abuse. Among both boys and girls, the states of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, and Delhi have recorded the highest rates of sexual abuse. Of the child respondents, 21.90% have faced severe forms of sexual abuse, while 50.76% have encountered other forms of sexual abuse. Approximately 5.69% of child respondents have been victims of sexual assault, with the states of Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, and Delhi reporting the highest incidents of such assaults.

Notably, children living on the streets, children engaged in labor, and children under institutional care are the most vulnerable to sexual assault. Alarmingly, in 50% of the reported cases, the perpetrators are individuals known to the child or those in positions of trust and responsibility. Regrettably, a majority of these children did not disclose these incidents to anyone.

Children are generally not recognized as a primary audience in either television news broadcasts or print media. News content intended for children is typically limited to periodic children's supplements or special sections included in certain newspapers.

Case Analysis
Jarnail Singh v. State of Haryana[7]
The individual who appealed the case faced allegations of abducting and sexually assaulting Savitri Devi's daughter while she was in a state of slumber. In this particular instance, the highest judicial body in India noted that the method employed to ascertain the age of a minor involved in legal disputes, as outlined in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Rules of 2007, could also be applied in situations falling under the purview of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act of 2012. Utilizing this guideline, the Court found the appellant, Jarnail Singh, guilty.

Satish Ragde v. the State of Maharashtra[8]
In the case of Satish Ragde v. the State of Maharashtra (2021), the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court determined that fondling a child's breasts without engaging in "direct skin-to-skin contact" constitutes an act of molestation according to the provisions of the POCSO Act, 2021.

This decision, delivered by Justice Pushpa Ganediwala, sparked significant controversy and disapproval. The Attorney General of India, the National Commission for Women, and the State of Maharashtra subsequently appealed against the High Court's ruling. These appeals were heard by a panel of judges comprising Justices Uday Umesh Lalit, S Ravindra Bhat, and Bela M Trivedi in the case of Attorney General for India versus Satish and another (2021).

Overturning the judgment of the Bombay High Court, the Supreme Court noted that the current matter warranted the application of the "mischief rule" in statutory interpretation. The Court stressed the importance of continuously interpreting the law in a manner that serves to prevent harm and promote remedies.

Libnus v. the State of Maharashtra[9]
In this particular case, the central question addressed by the High Court revolved around whether the act of "holding a child's hand and exposing one's genitals in her presence" could be categorized as sexual assault according to Section 7 of the POCSO Act. The Nagpur bench of the High Court determined that grasping a minor's hand and unzipping one's pants would not meet the criteria for sexual assault under the provisions of the POCSO Act of 2012; instead, it would be classified as sexual harassment.

Consequently, the appellant was not found guilty of aggravated sexual assault as stipulated in Sections 10 and 12 of the POCSO Act, along with other provisions under the IPC. Consequently, this ruling generated controversy, akin to the previously discussed "skin-to-skin" judgment.

The media, especially electronic media, has a significant role in moulding societal perspectives and impacting individuals' thoughts and actions. It fosters awareness, shapes behaviours, and mould's public opinion. Additionally, it serves as a reliable source of information, notifying relevant parties and fostering the need for specialized support services.

The media also forms advocacy groups to hasten the implementation of laws and serves as a societal watchdog. Through heightened awareness, it plays a pivotal role in influencing responses at various levels to address sexual violence against children.

  1. Lindsey, D. (1994), The welfare of children, Oxford University Press, New York
  2. Brawley, E. (1995), Human services and the media, Harwood Academic Publishers, Australia
  3. World Health Organization. (1999). Report of the Consultation on Child Abuse Prevention (document WHO/HSC/PVI/99.1). Geneva: World Health Organization
  4. Goddard, C. and Saunders, B.J. (2001), 'Journalists as agents and language as an instrument of social control: A child protection case study', Children Australia, 26 (2): 26-30
  5. Baran, S., Chase, L. and Courtright, J. (1979), 'Television drama as a facilitator of positive social behavior: The Waltons', Journal of Broadcasting, 23 (3): 277-284
  6. Study on Child abuse India, 2007. Source: accessed on 27-06-2015
  7. Jarnail Singh v. State of Haryana, (2013) 7 SCC 263
  8. Satish Ragde v. the State of Maharashtra, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 42
  9. Libnus v. the State of Maharashtra, 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 66

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