So, last week, Nicholas Kristof wrote an Op-Ed about the DRC that followed the usual theme (rape & lions + wailing and gnashing of teeth over why conflict remains “overlooked” or “forgotten” by the western media). This time, though, he added something new: the name and photograph of a nine year old girl who was brutally raped by rebel soldiers. He also described her home town and family in great detail, and mentioned that she has contracted a sexually transmitted disease.
I’ve written before about why I think it is unethical to present rape victims in this way. Especially if they are children, who cannot give meaningful consent. And especially if they live in a society where “most raped women are rejected by their husbands, and raped girls like [her] have difficulty marrying.”
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s Nicholas Kristof himself, last May, on why he and his employer The New York Times make it a policy not to publish the names or photos of rape victims:
“The practical consequence of naming victims in newspapers would, I think, be a disaster: even fewer women (and men) would report rapes. So I vote for sticking with the existing policy until we’re all more enlightened.”
I’m sorry, but quoi? It would be a “disaster” to name rape victims, but not when they are Congolese children who face even deeper discrimination than rape victims here in the United States?
I don’t question that Kristof’s intentions are good. I’m sure that he thought that publicizing this little girl’s story in lurid detail would somehow benefit her and others like her, through our old friend “raising awareness.” But that doesn’t make it okay: good intentions are not enough. And, more importantly, it’s not a reasonable choice for him to make, because he’s not the one who will have to bear the consequences if it goes wrong. This child is. And she is nine years old. As in “t-minus nine years to the age of majority.” As in “cannot give meaningful consent.” As in “don’t publish her goddamn picture, and all available identifying information about her, in the apparently-laxly-edited Paper of Record.”
P.S. If only there were guidance on this issue from some sort of international body dedicated to children’s rights. . . .Oh, wait! Alert reader Hervé reminds me that UNICEF has issued a comprehensive set of Principles for Ethical Reporting on Children. They include “Always change the name and obscure the visual identity of any child who is identified as [...] a victim of sexual abuse or exploitation.” And “avoid categorisations or descriptions that expose a child to negative reprisals – including additional physical or psychological harm, or to lifelong abuse, discrimination or rejection by their local communities. “
Man, those utopian UN types, with their unreasonable demands and high expectations. When will they ever learn?