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03 June 2005

Factsheet 1 : The reality of abuse and how it’s represented in the media

Press Release

The general public even many professionals understand relatively little about the realities of the sexual abuse of young children:

  • Child sexual abuse is not new to South Africa or the region. Child molestation has occurred throughout history and in many cultures across the world.
  • Child sexual abuse is not just rape. It includes fondling, voyeurism, and exposure to and participation in child pornography and child prostitution. Clearly these have different consequences for affected children.
  • All cases of the rape of young children involve force. It can involve the perpetrator hitting, hurting, smothering or threatening the child while forcing penetration. Usually, the younger the child, the more serious the physical injury.

Media representations are extremely powerful in determining how abuse is perceived and how we respond to cases of abuse. Reports play a positive role in drawing our attention to abuse. However, in South Africa, the media tend to focus particularly on sensational cases involving the rape of young children. Such sensational reporting obscures the fact that most child abuse does not involve infant rape. For instance, some media reports on the case of ?Baby Tshepang? exploited the horror of the erroneous allegation that the child was gang raped, but paid very little attention to some of the complexities of the case and the role of other social factors.

The media have a crucial role to play in alerting the public to the problem of child sexual abuse. However, it is essential that reporting be responsible and avoids sensationalism.

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