Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives a MAD[1] to SABC News for a broadcasted story in which a 17-year-old alleged victim of rape was potentially subjected to secondary trauma. 

The story is titled, “17 year old victim of sexual abuse feel justice system has failed her” and was broadcast on SABC News on the 24th of August, 2020 and uploaded to the media’s  YouTube channel on the same date. It is about a 17-year-old girl who was allegedly raped by a man who assisted her with a lift. In the events of this horrific experience, she reportedly lost her unborn baby who was a week old at that time. The girl is heard reliving her traumatic experiences of whereby later she reveals she was raped for the second time by another person two months after her first ordeal. The child also reveals that she contracted HIV from one of her ordeals.

While we commend SABC News for adhering to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA)[2] Section 11.7 which advises against revealing the identity of rape victims in media coverage, we cannot help but frown upon the fact that this child was made to recount her experience thereby being potentially subjected to secondary trauma.

Ordinarily,  the Press Code of Ethics and Conduct for South Africa Print and Online Media[3] would not apply but because this clip was uploaded online, we believe SABC News contravened Section 8.1 of the Code which states, “The press shall therefore exercise exceptional care and consideration when reporting about children under the age of 18. If there is any chance that coverage might cause harm of any kind to a child, he or she shall not be interviewed, photographed or identified without the consent of a legal guardian or of a similarly responsible adult and the child (taking into consideration the evolving capacity of the child); and a public interest is evident.”

While the child has the capacity to give consent to being interviewed, we argue that there was no public interest in her being made to relive her trauma. Further, we believe that even where consent was given, it was the journalist’ duty to gauge whether interviewing her was in her best interest. MMA always urges journalists to only interview children about their traumatic experiences when those children have undergone counselling and that the interview must be held in the presence of a counsellor who would gauge before and during whether the child is fit to talk about her experience. The story gives no indication that the child went through counselling prior to the interview.

The fact that the child is was sexually abused and is HIV positive, as has been revealed by her, should have made the journalist more sensitive and cautious to not subject her to further trauma.

MMA condemns the actions of the journalist interviewing a child who is still experiencing trauma by actively seeing her perpetrators, her cases being unresolved and the reminder that she contracted HIV from her ordeal.  This not only potentially lengthened her healing time but also had the potential to implicate her case as details from the interview could be used against her in court proceedings.

The story highlights an important crisis South Africa is facing of gender-based violence where women especially young girls are being sexually abused. It also puts a spotlight on the cracks within the South African justice system.  

MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media[4] advise journalists that when reporting about children, children should be “protected from harm and retribution, even potential harm and retribution”.

We encourage the reporting of Gender-Based Violence especially involving children. However, the media must be cautious and report in the children’s best interest.

By Nomshado Lubisi

[1] A MAD is given when a journalist reports on children in an irresponsible manner