Visual language of rape in India

Image 1. A newspaper from India with sexual assault news marked in red

Such under-curated visual content can degrade a sensitive narrative through many connotations that may be effective through the visuals. Many journalists, readers and designers may be unaware of the potential implications of these representations.

Two common and potentially damaging reactions by readers are the tendencies to rely on and perpetuate stereotypes about sexual assaults (Burt, 1980) and to blame victims for the assault (Ryan, 1971).
This paper semiotically analyses various forms of traditional and alternative imagery that is used in journalism to report sexual violence. The analysis is categorized first by type of channel: Online news, print media or alternative mixed media. The channel defines the pace of the workflow, which further governs the decision-making time. And secondly by type of execution: illustrative, digital art or digital photography, which provides further insight into the meaning and sentiments evoked by the graphics.


Indian news consumption has been rapidly transitioning from print to digital broadcasting with 167 million households with individual televisions, 300 million mobile users and 323 million internet users in 2017 (Agarwal, 2018). Even with 1,05,443 registered newspapers/periodicals in circulation, the Indian population has shifted consumption of news to majorly rely on Online News for its minute-by-minute updates that serve the expectations of the highly informed Indian. That said, print journalism has become an indulgence of the highly educated population that waits on English newspapers to receive information. Within print media, the major hit has also been faced by English newspapers as they were the staple channels for the middle class educated Indian who has now transitioned to digital channels. Regional language newspapers are still sustaining, serving many regions of non-connectivity. (Bose, 2017)
As a consequence of this shift around the world as well, newspapers and other news operations are now adopting a ‘web-first’ approach to organizing their work flow (Armstrong & Gao, 2010). This means having reporters and editors prepare first for reporting and producing content and multimedia stories for the web, then writing a text story for the print edition. In a web-first approach, the main focus often is on breaking news and getting those stories on the web as fast as possible, on a 24-hour-a-day, 7-days- a-week news cycle.


1. Always-On Broadcasting of Digital Media

Image 2–4. (l-r) Illustration stock images used in digital news media
Image 5–6. (l-r) Digital photos manipulated to depict sexual violence
Image 7. Screenshot of Google Image search of the keyword ‘rape’
Image 8. Blurred image of an 8 years old rape victim
Image 9–11. (l-r) Factual photographs used in print media
Image 12–13. (l-r) Photo manipulation by designers in a crowd-sourced challenge
Image 14. Digital illustration created in a crowd-sourced challenge

The implications of each medium described in this paper can be utilized as a vantage point to address problems of victimization, stigma, myth endorsement, misrepresentation, lack of violator representation, awareness of semiotics of design elements, accountability, gender-neutrality and more than anything, empowerment for the survivors through redesigning the way we have been conditioned to visualize sexual violence.



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