Has the media suddenly turned a spotlight on rape?

August 02, 2014 06:39 pm | Updated August 03, 2014 08:22 am IST

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The short answer is yes. And this is possibly one of the few instances in which public perception can be definitely proven using historic data. News stories, broadcasts and web clips over the last 30 years, extracted from the world’s biggest database of media reports – the >GDELT project * – show that reports about rape and sexual assault in India are appearing in the media at an unprecedented frequency.

The tall peak in the graph above is the coverage immediately following the December 2012 Delhi gang rape. Ever since then, the issue of sexual assault has been covered more frequently than at any time prior to December 2012.

While this kind of focus on a sensitive issue is welcome, it can also create a lot of perception bias as The Hindu’s three-part series on the >stories behind the rape cases in Delhi highlighted.

Just because the media is highlighting cases of violent sexual assault more frequently doesn’t mean that such cases are happening more often. Or that they constitute the bulk of the cases in which charges of rape were brought.

December 2012 changed a lot of things. Its repercussions were felt in the media long after. There was an upsurge in reporting on sexual assault as the case journeyed through the courts and the criminal justice system – in March 2013 when one of the six accused died in Tihar jail, in September 2013 when the four adult defendants were sentenced to death and finally on the one year anniversary in December 2013.

Hopefully, the one thing that the case didn’t change is a need to be sensitive and nuanced while trying to understand the causes and find cures for instances of sexual assault and rape that plague Indian society.

* The GDELT project monitors the world’s broadcast, print, and web news from nearly every country in over 100 languages. All data is normalized to compensate for an exponential increase in news outlets over the last 30 years

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