Privacy rights of rape survivors
The life of a rape survivor changes drastically the minute her rights are violated by her rapist or rapists. To fathom the emotional whirlwind endured by her as she is victimized is impossible, and it is necessary to exercise caution and be sensitive while communicating with her after the incident. Sensitivity, empathy, and giving space to the survivor are of primary importance on the part of a loved one or supporter. In a number of cases, however, rape survivors are victimized twice due to the insensitive attitudes of law making personnel and members of the media, and sometimes even their own families. It is important to look at how re-victimizing a rape survivor by not respecting their privacy can have unwelcome results, and to learn how to work with them in a sensitive fashion.
The Park Street gang rape case is a recent example of how the privacy rights of a rape survivor were violated. Her real name and other personal details were shared via a news report, and various over zealous media reporters chose to cover only half her face while she was being interviewed. Shockingly, some news media even revealed her residential address, leading to complications in the actual case; she and her children were threatened by the families of her rapists and confessed to feeling suicidal due the undue violation of her rights. In another gross violation of privacy rights, the photographs of a gang rape were published first by the rapists themselves, and then by the media. The face of the female survivor was not hidden, and she committed suicide shortly afterwards.
It is important to understand the need for sensitivity when it comes to working with a survivor of rape. In order to do that, one must first understand the impact that rape can have on a person who endures it. Rape is not restricted to merely physical and sexual violation, it is about the breaking of a person’s spirit, and it is this broken spirit, which needs healing and nurturing. The fact that their privacy has already been violated once indicates the need for it to be protected from further violation.
Respecting the need for the survivor to share or not share her feelings is integral to the protection of her rights. Some survivors feel angry and vent about how they are feeling. Some even report the rape themselves and submit willingly towards rape tests and interviews with police. Some however, close themselves to conversation and are unwilling to come forward to report the case. In the same way, some survivors are open to speaking with the media about their ordeal, while others are not. Here it is important to give the power of decision making back to the survivor.
For the media, which plays an important role in chronicling current events and sharing information with the public, it is important for them to understand that rape survivors have human rights, and the right to say “No” if they do not wish to be interviewed, or do not wish to answer certain questions. Bullying, sensationalizing of case details, and revealing too much information are all factors which serve to insult and violate a survivor of rape, and a distinction between creating “breaking news” and turning a serious issue into a tabloid piece needs to be made.
Police and lawmakers too, are responsible in a big way for violating a rape survivor’s privacy rights. Many stories have emerged from interviews with survivors, which have highlighted the callous attitude, unwarranted questions, character defamation, and complete lack of empathy on behalf of these protectors and purveyors of justice. Statistics too, show that for every 100 incidents of rape, which occur, only 3% are reported. A more sensitive attitude and understanding of the psyche of rape survivors will greatly help in addressing the issue and providing support to them.
Overall it is important to understand and acknowledge the emotional aspect of rape, and the need to protect a rape survivor from further violation. The right to privacy is both, a basic human right as well as a Constitutional right, and to uphold this right will serve not only to facilitate healing of survivors, but will contribute considerably towards the overall prevention of rape.