There is new guidance for reporting on sexual offenses in the UK. That guidance came from the UK press regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation.
Journalists are advised against publishing anything that may identify a victim and to be especially careful when reporting on any case involving a child. This can include location or relationships between people.
IPSO notes that UK law has specific guidance for reporting on sexual offenses. “All victims of sexual offences, including children, are automatically guaranteed anonymity for life from the moment they make an allegation that they are the victim of a sexual offence,” IPSO says. “A victim is guaranteed anonymity even when someone else accuses the defendant of the offence. In Scotland, the law is different but the practice of respecting anonymity is the same.”
Further, there are crimes people may not consider sexual offenses that may be protected by the anonymity requirement like slavery and female genital mutilation. Victims are still guaranteed anonymity “even where the allegation is withdrawn, the police decide to take no action, or the accused is acquitted.” The guidelines go into exceptions like if an adult decides to waive their anonymity.
Journalists also should use language sensitively when reporting on sexual offenses, IPSO advises. “Care should be taken not to choose terminology which sensationalises the offences, apportions blame or implies that the victims consented to the sexual act,” IPSO said. (iMediaEthics has previously written about this issue in the U.S., when news outlets have said sexual assault or child sex crimes victims “had sex with” their assaulter, which suggests consent.)
IPSO also recommended journalists consider how to handle a reader possible identifying the victim online on the news outlets’ social media accounts and reader comments section. Further, UK news outlets must also be avoid contempt of court if they report on an active criminal case by making sure the news outlet and readers don’t post any “prejudicial comments.”
IPSO’s guidance also listed several questions for journalists to consider when reporting on sexual offenses like
- “What information are you including about the offence”
- “Is there anything distinctive in the information which is likely, on its own, to contribute to the identification of the victim?”
- “Is there anything in the circumstances of the offence, for example the location in which the offence took place, which might make it more likely the victim could be identified?”
- Is there any information about how the victim and accused met?
- Could readers figure out who the victim is based on information in the article or in the public domain?
The guidance is published here.