Where media reports on rape fail

BY PRACHI BHAGWAT| IN Media Monitoring | 06/08/2017
A two-part study looks at the narrow conceptual framework newspapers use to deal with rape. It’s all specific details of the crime rather than the underlying structural causes,


In the aftermath of the 2012 Delhi rape case, crimes of sexual violence attained a renewed significance in public discourse. Newspapers were one among the many sites which reflected this phenomenon. To this day, newspapers are replete with cases of sexual violence, each more brutal than the other. The sheer abundance of these reports warrants a study of the information provided in them and what this conveys to the reader regarding the nature of the crime, its causes and how can it be prevented.

The following study examines the nature of cases that find their way into the newspaper, and goes further to decode the inadequacies and implications of the information contained in the reports.


  1. The study’s sample consists of reports on crimes of rape which were published in April and May in three leading English dailies: The Times of India, The Indian Express and The Hindu.
  2. The sample includes a total of 216 reports which dealt with 192 unique cases of rape.
  3. The reports were manually taken from the websites of the three newspapers. However, the sample may not include ALL articles published during this period in the newspapers.
  4. Each report was read individually and details were segregated according to categories thought of in advance. Additional patterns were observed and a re-coding of the reports was carried out.
  5. The information obtained can be used to understand two major issues:

1. Patterns in the details of cases reported.

2. The way these cases are reported and the inadequacies therein.

Further, what implications does the kind of reporting present in these newspapers have for the way in which we think of why rape occurs and what steps can be taken to tackle it.

A. In the first exercise, the categories into which the cases were put under include:

I. Whether the victim was a minor

II. The relation between the victim and the perpetrator

III. The number of cases where the accused had promised marriage to the victim which was not fulfilled.



  1.       I.        55% of cases involved victims who were minors
  2.     II.        In terms of how the perpetrator was related to the victim, the findings were as follows:
  • In 10% of cases, the accused was a stranger to the victim
  • In 46% of cases , the accused was known to the victim
  • In 1.6% of cases the accused was a state-employed security personnel
  • In 14% of cases the accused was a family member
  • In 8% of cases the accused and the victim were in a relationship.
  • In 3% and 15% of cases the accused was identified at the time of press, and not mentioned in the report, respectively.

        3.   III.        11% of cases involved a charge of rape being filed by the victim after a promise of marriage was not fulfilled by the accused.

B. In the second part of the study, the newspapers’ reportage on rape was examined and the coding categories involved:

I. The scope of the report. Did the report focus exclusively on describing the occurrence of the crime or was the report set against a broader canvas?

II. Was the perpetrator’s identity revealed in the report, in a manner in which the identity of the victim was made easier to place, thus indirectly breaking the law ?

III. How many cases were followed up with more reports and what kind of cases were followed up? 


   I.      Scope of the Report

  • 61% of reports focussed on the details of the occurrence of the crime.
  • 35% of reports went beyond simply describing the crime and involved following up on a police investigation or covering the case in court. However, these cases were not exempt from including graphic detail of the crime.
  • 4% of reports were set against a broader canvas and appeared independently of the occurrence of a case.

  II.       In 34% of reports the victim was made vulnerable to identification by naming and providing other details about the perpetrator.

 III.      The rate of follow-up articles was abysmally low with only 8% of cases receiving a follow up.


Statistical Overview

Total number of reports in the sample : 216
Number of Unique Cases: 183
Number of Reports unrelated to a particular case: 9


Case I: Details of cases reported


1. More than 55% of cases involved a minor victim. In most cases reported, the victims belonged to working class families that lived in areas that made the victim vulnerable to rape. Moreover, only 1 out of the 100 cases reported involved a male victim. Here, the use of the word rape was conspicuous by its absence. Instead, the report carefully termed it sodomy.

2.The second category of coding examined how the victim and accused were related and what was the nature of the relation. Out of a total of 192 cases, the victim was known to the accused and vice-versa in 110. The perpetrator in 25 of the 110 cases was a member of the victim's family. The news reports did not shy away from reporting these cases, which break the myth that rape is most often committed by strangers. The reports, however, do not address the facts that their own reports present. There was no comment about the fact that in a number of cases, the perpetrator was the father of the victim.

3. Though there were not many cases which involved charges of rape being levelled at men who had gone back on their promise to marry the woman, the similarity in terms of the gaps of information in each of these reports requires some elaboration.   

In each of the reports, the rape charges were filed after the man had gone back on his promise to marry the woman. Some of the reports state that the man and woman had sexual relations prior to marriage but do not find out whether the sex was consensual. There are many questions that arise from these reports. Can sex before marriage, even if consensual, be booked as rape? (The law does not prevent consensual sex before marriage). Something else to think about is that there is a process of interpretation of law that takes place in police stations. In that case, are the police interpreting their duties in a problematic manner? Lastly, why do women level charges of rape against a man who does not keep his promise of marriage, for which he can be booked for cheating under Section 415 of the Indian Penal Code. None of these questions are answered by the reports.











Relation between perpetrator and victim








Known to victim




Perpetrator was a state employed security personnel (Army personnel/Police officer on duty)




Perpetrator was a family member








Not mentioned




Rape case filed against offender who refused to fulfill promise of marriage.




Case II: Details of News Reports


1. Scope of Reports

61% of the reports dealt with the specifics of the crime, 35% appeared in connection to a particular case but went beyond just describing the crime, and 4% appeared independent of any particular case. 

2. 34% of reports, by providing details of the perpetrator and his relation to the victim, made the victim vulnerable to identification.

3. Overall, there was an abysmal lack of follow-up on cases. Only 8% of cases received a second article that followed up on the case. 



Scope of Report









Case specific but goes beyond incident




Commentary on rape in general




Perpetrator’s identity revealed in a manner in which the victim was made vulnerable to identification


* 207= Total number of reports - Reports that did not pertain to a particular case 



Number of cases that received a follow up



8 %



1.      I.            Scope of Article








These reports primarily described the crime and provided detail about the ‘Where’, ‘When’, ‘Who’, and ‘How’ of the crime.




Case- specific

The central premise of these articles was following the police investigation or tracking court cases related to the crime. They were not devoid of salacious detail.




General Commentary

These reports appeared independently of the occurrence of a particular case.




Raw data on which this study is based.

PART 2 -  Failing to do justice to the complexity of rape


Prachi Bhagwat studies Modern Indian History at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. 


The Hoot is the only not-for-profit initiative in India which does independent media monitoring.
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