Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives a MAD[1] to Sowetan for its article titled, “Teen recalls rape ordeal” (23/05/2019, p.9). In the article, a girl who was kidnapped and raped is interviewed and quoted thereby subjecting her to potential secondary trauma.

The story is about a 15-year-old girl who is reported to have been walking back from school with her three friends when an unknown man kidnapped the four of them. The article reports that after seven hours, the suspect released three girls and kept the fourth one hostage until the following day.

The story gives some graphic details of the trauma the four girls had to experience for hours. It also describes step by the step through the 15-year-old girl how the perpetrator took the girls hostage at knifepoint and how he forced himself on all four of them. The child also says in the article that the man had wrapped the victims’ jerseys around their heads before he raped them after telling them that he had a gun “which he would use if they made a noise”.

MMA is of the view that Sowetan should not have interviewed the child before she went through counselling and in the absence of a counsellor. According to the article, the children’s ordeal happened the Monday before the article was published which indicates that this traumatic experience is very recent. The journalist should have waited until the child had healed enough to talk about her ordeal. Interviewing her this early exposed the girl to secondary trauma as it revived the atrocity she and her friends experienced. MMA advises journalists against making children relive their trauma as this lengthens their healing, among other things.

According to the Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media,[2] in order to minimise harm when writing a story on children, journalists must ask those who know or work with them, or are experts on the issue, about the potential consequences of telling the story. For this story, the journalist should have spoken to a counsellor who would have gauged whether the child was fit enough to recount her story.

Adding to that, the fact that the case has not yet been presented in the court, quoting the victim who is a potential witness at criminal proceedings might jeopardise the case since the interview might be used against her testimony in the court of law.

MMA would like to advise Sowetan not to interview a child immediately after surviving trauma and to protect children as potential criminal proceedings witnesses by ensuring that an interview quoted in the article will not become an obstacle at criminal proceedings.

By Jacques Ndong


[1]  MADs are given to journalists who have irresponsibly reported on children and compromised their rights and welfare