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Secondary Victimisation by the Media: How a Pen Can Be More Fatal than a Sword
Choi Ji-su & Lee Seong-chae  |  jschoi@1020 / seongchaelee@hanyang.ac.kr
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[341호] 승인 2019.03.04  
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On December 17, 2018, a short-track national athlete Shim Suk-hee filed a sexual assault complaint against Cho Jae-beom, her former coach. He was accused of sexually harassing Shim from 2014 to 2017. This has been a big issue within the society, fuelling discussion of the #MeToo incidents once again. Unfortunately, the news has also been misused by the media as a form of gossip or yellow journalism and many have expressed their disgust regarding such squalid behaviour.

 

The public has argued that there have been several distortions by the media, regarding not only the current short track case but also in various areas within society. What was pointed out was that the press is producing articles that are irrelevant to the facts and details of the cases they deal with. For example, a newspaper branch published its column titled ʻEmergency in Athletics: Shim Suk-hee denotatively Accuses Former National Coach Cho Jae-beom, for Harassing Her for Four Yearsʼ which is fundamentally extraneous to the actual case.

 

Secondary Victimisation: Defined 

Secondary victimisation refers to additional adversity towards crime victims. The term is also known as lost-crime victimisation or double victimisation. Secondary victimisation can happen through the press, social pressure, or even legislative authorities. From the perspective of crime victims and advocates, the news media is a double-edged sword in covering such crimes, said a representative from Hanyang University (HYU) Human Rights Centre.

 

Secondary Victimisation in the Media

Speaking to the news media about such atrocities can alert people of the fact that criminal actions are not only limited to random people on the street but can happen anywhere, to anyone. However, for some victims, the trauma of being victimised can be compounded by speaking publicly about their experiences in the aftermath of a crime. Generally speaking, it would take time for them to recover from the shock and suffering of their trauma before participating in the legal process that happens post-crime such as police investigations or going to the court. As they are usually traumatised by the incident they faced, media coverage in the wake of a crime may exacerbate their agony while additionally causing futile and gratuitous harm. Sometimes the media does not follow the common rule regarding the principle of innocence, said Ryoo Woong-jae, an Associate Professor at the Department of Media Communication in HYU. If the media work in an inappropriate or intrusive way, it can re-victimise victims, which fails to help them overcome their struggles.

 

Secondary Victimisation Through Language

There also exists verbal misuse that causes secondary victimisation. When it comes to writing articles regarding sexual crimes, reporters tend to select words such as permanent scars, inevitable, or defenceless. These words can easily plant an image on the readers that the victim is weak and vulnerable, and therefore the physical and psychological damage the person received is difficult to overcome. “Even the word ʻvictimisationʼ can unintentionally emphasize a criminal-and-victim relationship. Some use ʻsecondary damageʼ instead,” said the HYU Human Rights Centre representative.

 

What Induces Secondary Victimisation?

There are a few factors that lead from the initial victimisation to its abrogating secondary phase. First is the perpetrator-centered culture, and the lack of societyʼs awareness of secondary victimisation is another factor. According to Gwon Sun-taek, a member of the People Coalition for Media Reform, profligate talks amongst the society that surrounds the victim can eventually promote a certain stigma onto the person. This is because people are not comprehensively cognizant of the detrimental consequences of their nonchalant just-for-kicks. 

 

The antagonism of the press and the media can be found of consequential and far-reaching repercussions through their fundamental leverage. This is because various kinds of media can reproduce their own content with a significant amount of ripple effects. One example is the aforementioned case of sexual harassment by the former short-track coach which led the National Congress to modify the existing law concerning the disqualification and revocation of national coaches. Some reporters wrote articles by naming the law “Shim Sukhee Law” which is victim-centred and disobedient toward the recommendation made by the Ministry of Gender Equality of Family and also the Journalists Association of Korea, which states reporters should not produce victim-centred articles.

 

The Nature of Media and Secondary Victimisation

Abuse and clickbait are additional mistakes that reporters tend to make, which can eventually cause post-crime or secondary victimisation. Such forms of reporting distort the core issue that should be delivered to readers and make the articles carelessly disqualify their own values. Last year, when Director Lee Youn-taekʼs sexual misbehaviours were revealed to the public, several reports were published in a fashion that highlighted the relation he had with the current administration, and not on the fact that he committed a serious crime. 

 

Regarding the psychological damage that can be caused by secondary victimisation, language usage also plays an important role. When the situation of a crime is not explicitly stated, it can cause people to think that the victim is the cause of the crime rather than the criminal. For example, when a reporter states in the coverage of a sex crime: “The complainant was walking home alone at night from a bar” or “the complainant could not recall the details of the incident as the person was intoxicated”, it can arguably induce some people to think the victim would not have been assaulted if he or she had not walked home alone at night, or had not been drunk.

 

The danger here is that it may lead to blaming the victims, not the criminals, otherwise known as victim-blaming. People tend to think that a victim who was drunk or intoxicated could have avoided or could have expected the danger, and therefore the liabilities belong to the victim. This can inflict additional trauma to victims as a heavy burden and even as a form of blame for their actions. “This is where we need education in regards to journalism from an early age so that we can develop media literacy and media democracy,” said Professor Ryoo.

 

In relation to the coverage of crime by the media, the loss of control is another factor to be taken into consideration. Inaccurate information can form public opinions and peopleʼs misunderstanding of a situation. Therefore, media coverage can revictimise victims, especially if it is overly sensational or inaccurate. Professor Ryoo mentioned that: “The media function within the public sphere is something that should be sustained. Therefore, we need social discourse and discussion in order to maintain its nature. It can also reinforce misinformation and uncensored statements about crime victims.” HYU Human Rights Centre representative said, “By focusing on sensational and high-profile crimes, the media coverage then ignores other victims who may also want or need to tell their stories but are denied because their stories are less compelling.” Society structural discrepancy is also a matter of fact. According to Gwon Suntaek, Korean society lacks an assortment of ideas when it comes to reporting. Gwon said, “Editors, who are highly ranked, are not as aware of secondary victimisation compared to young reporters. In a bureaucratic hierarchy of media companies, editors decide what photo to use, what title to choose, and even what content should be delivered through the articles. The key is to change the mentality of such decision-making groups.”

 

Looking at Secondary Victimisation from a Legal Perspective

In addition to peopleʼs psychological perception, the lack of a legal system is also deepening secondary damage inflicted on the victims in our society. According to a recent survey conducted by the Hanyang Journal, about 20 percent of HYU students answered that they believed secondary damage was caused due to missing legal sanctions. According to Professor Jang Seunghyuk from the Graduate School of Law at HYU: “The trial process for sexual violence cases is basically identical to that of a normal case. In the Special Act on the Punishment of Sexual Violence (hereafter referred to as the Sex Violence Act), various measures are taken to protect the victimsʼ privacy and to prevent libel. Examples include protection measures for victims, and reported persons (Article 23), the prohibition of revealing their identity and privacy (Article 24), the consideration in the investigation and trial process (Article 29), the confidentiality of court hearings, (Article 31), and the trust of the co-chair in courts (Article 34).” However, criminal law does not treat secondary victimisation independently. The secondary victimisation to victims after sexual crimes is viewed as individual disclosure, tracking the victimʼs history without incident, repeating statements made by the victim, and sexual harassment.

 

In particular, the most serious problem was victim defamation by the media. Therefore, secondary victimisation committed by the press could also be classified as libel by the press and be punished according to libel laws (Article 310 of the Criminal Law). However, because the level of punishment is low, it is not that effective. Regardless, it is still necessary to consider strengthening social responsibility to protect victims impacted by secondary victimisation committed by the media, including the introduction of a punitive damage system, the obligation to protect victims privacy within the sexual assault law, as well as including punishment against media companies without causing a decrease in their freedom of expression.

 

Professor Hwang Sung-gi, from the Graduate School of Law at HYU also said, “Under the current criminal law, if you defame a person by stating false facts, they can be punished, but because there are so-called circumstances precluding wrongfulness reasons (veracity, public interest, and comparatives), reporting defamation made by the media is not easily accepted. It is also a problem that is linked to the idea of protecting freedom of the press.”

 

A Solution Between the Second Wave of Damage Made by The Media and Media Control

How can the second wave of damage by the media be solved? As already mentioned, secondary victimisation through the press is not punishable by criminal law. This issue would need to be resolved by the victim directly reporting it to the Korea Communications Standards Commission or to the Press Arbitration Commission. 

 

However, it is not easy for victims to do this. It is also not easy to impose legal sanctions against second wave abuse, as it could lead to the manipulation of the press and the suppression of their freedom of expression if overly harsh steps are taken to punish the media.

 

First, in order to reduce secondary victimisation, society must apply victimism in problem analysis. Victimism is the ideology which stresses the need to think from a victimʼs perspective. This means that one has to think about the location and environment that the victim was surrounded by and also about how the victim is in relation to the perpetrator. For example, when sexual assault occurs between a professor and a student, it is important to think from the victimsʼ perspective, not the perpetratorsʼ. One should also consider the position of the victim, and whether the victim was under the perpetratorʼs control or not.

 

There are many cases where victimism is not well maintained under the pretext of maintaining neutrality obtain information about the perpetrator than the victim, reckless reporting of incoming information tend to be centred on the perpetrator. Therefore, it is important to know what kind of things should be reported by the press. In todayʼs press culture, it is important to release new information faster than others. But under these circumstances, victimism cannot be preserved well. 

 

Kim Aeon-kyung, the Secretary General of the Citizensʼ Coalition for Democratic Media, said: “When it comes to reporting sensitive topics such as sexual assault, the media should report them very shortly and dryly. Donʼt give details, nor attempt to talk about the nature of sexual violence in a dramatic way. Also, whether it is a form of sexual assault or not should be judged by the law. We should not repeat the situation by pretending to seek truth in the national court. There may be reports of court rulings, but there should be no detailed explanation and inference of the situation, all of which constitutes secondary damage. However, the topic of sexual violence should not be ignored. Sexual assault news should report more about the punishment itself.ˮ Of course, it will not be easy to change these things overnight. Social efforts are needed to educate people and to improve public awareness. More thought about the issue from the victimʼs perspective and what the current social situation is like for should be done overall.

 

In the case of the media, there are many cases where articles are indiscriminately given enticing and sensational titles. When this happens, the media should actively raise questions, challenging such titles. One by one, there will be a change in society and a change in the media; specifically, how they report certain issues. Efforts will have to be built up by many people for this change. Although, the guidelines for sexual violence issued by the Korean Journalists Association already exist, what is important is how such guidelines are internalized for journalists.

 

Park Ah-reum, an activist at the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Centre, added, “In the case of privacy rights, it is not a concept that Korea has, but in the case of foreign countries, they emphasize the protection of privacy rights. In some countries, cyberbullying infringes on privacy rights. We can also bring this concept to the table for secondary victimisation. In the end, however, foreign countries also talk about laws and how media coverage goes against the protection of victims. Such changes in the media and having success with them also depend on what kind of a society they live in. Such media reports should create a social atmosphere that calls for solving sexual violence. While legal policies, such as the recommended policies, are important, it is necessary to change how readers react to media reports as well. Of course, the influence of the media on society cannot be ignored. People should be able to suggest a better direction and change things together.

 

How the Pen Can Be More Painful Than the Sword

The media tends to report excitedly but also debauchedly about sex crimes. In fact, according to a recent survey conducted by the Hanyang Journal, about 80 percent of the HYU students replied that they found that the way the Korean press dealt with sexual assault cases was provocative. The Korean press tends to view sexual violence as a lucrative business, so they report events superficially rather than going in depth. In addition, media networks also tend to add unnecessary photographs or illustrations that are only used to distort the facts and to violate the rights of the victims.

 

The rights of victims should not be infringed upon by the people's right to know. Since the #MeToo movement, media coverage has been indiscriminate as the victims began to speak up about what happened to them publicly. However, journalists should write articles thinking about how their reports on sexual violence could end up affecting the victims by choosing to write humanely.

 

Reporting about these events are worth public coverage, especially cases regarding sexual violence and reporting such cases is a major responsibility of the media. However, using these cases for entertainment and gossip is an action that must be avoided, as the basic rights of these victims should be considered and principles such as the presumption of innocence of perpetrators should not be ignored. Currently, there are no legal restrictions on secondary damage imposed by the media onto victims. The absence of legal sanctions, along with the peopleʼs social awareness, further exacerbates the second round of damage by the media; this situation must be improved.

   
 
 
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