Informed media reporting

What is it?

  • Ethical, balanced and informed approach, a consistent use of terminology and a positive inclusion of victims / survivors, where appropriate.

Why is it important?

  • Accountable, ethical and well-informed reporting of instances, trends or prevalence of abuse and exploitation, as well as its impact, is crucial to avoiding further harm or increasing risks for children.
  • Unethical and inaccurate reporting could lead to re-traumatisation of the abuse for the victims or survivors and their families, or to the identification of the victims or survivors and their families and subsequent or further abuse, exploitation, stigma or discrimination.
  • Unethical and inaccurate reporting could lead to the publication and further exploitation of risks, such as sharing online or in person access routes to children or potentially harmful gaps in products or services.
  • Unethical and inaccurate reporting could lead to misrepresenting or generalising the issues, dynamics and trends behind online child sexual abuse and exploitation. Moreover, shame and victim-blaming (intentional or unintentional, through phrasing and content) can lead to a reduction in reporting.
  • Inaccurate terminology could lead to the exclusion or double counting of particular risk groups or categories of children. It could also lead to misunderstandings or generalisations of the dynamics of abuse and risks for specific groups of children, e.g. children of a particular age, gender, race.
  • Inaccurate terminology could also lead to misunderstandings on the potential level of harm of a risk or trend or misinterpretations of the abuse dynamics and therefore required prevention and response. (See capability 4).

How can it be implemented?

  • Organisations and individuals working to eliminate online child sexual abuse and exploitation need to set the terminology and standards to guide the media and others in their reporting. This could be led by an international coordination body and agreed and implemented by a range of interested actors. (See capability 4).
  • The media should be guided by a rights based approach and children’s best interests as outlined in international commitments, including the  UNCRC, Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and the forthcoming UN General Comment on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment. (See capability 3).
  • Where technical disagreements remain or terminology compromises are challenging, clear standard explanations can be agreed. Where possible, decisions should be made on the general understanding that agreed international terminology is a central part of effective collaboration and coordinated and successful programmes.
  • It is also important to avoid over reliance on figures and prevalence of types of abuse when we know that abuse is happening: one child victim of online sexual exploitation or abuse is enough to require action. Accurate numbers of the categories of children who are victims or survivors of online abuse or exploitation are, largely, unattainable. Due to a range of issues including stigma, fear of repercussions, lack of access or knowledge on reporting and lack of trust in the report procedure process and resulting action, it is likely that online abuse incidents are underreported and that real figures are likely to be higher than those reported and presented. The extent of reporting and underreporting is unknown. Simultaneous focus should be on the risks and potential harms that face children and in preventing and responding to those. (See capability 5).

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