How Sexual Abuse Victims In India Are Using Snapchat To Protect Their Identities

There’s an endless list of reasons why it’s so difficult for victims of sexual abuse to come forward or open up about their experiences. Victims face everything from skepticism and abuse from law enforcement, to degrading victim-blaming and harsh social and professional repercussions, to potentially being targeted by their attackers if they’re still out there. It’s completely understandable why survivors would want to protect their identities from the public. That’s why Yusuf Omar of the Hindustan Times recorded interviews with sexual abuse survivors using Snapchat, as the app’s filters, typically used for lighthearted fun, could be used to disguise victims’ identities. Survivors interviewed by Omar were allowed to choose whatever filter they liked, with one selecting a fire-breathing dragon.

Omar opened up to Journalism.co.uk about how this approach established trust with survivors who are justifiably wary of the media, saying: “Recording with a mask gave them the sense of legitimacy and security that I wasn’t going to be able to show their face, as opposed to trusting a journalist saying, ‘Yes, we will blur you afterwards,’ so they felt empowered and in control of the narrative.” He noted that using the front-facing camera on a phone made it feel like they were looking in a mirror. “They weren’t telling their story to me or a camera, they were just looking at themselves in a phone and recalling their experiences – and there was something so personal and sincere about that,” he said.

Omar also acknowledged that “stigma around sexual violence is such a big issue, especially in India where women are frequently accused of lying,” but frankly, discrediting victims is a pretty big issue just about everywhere. He then further elaborated on how his unique approach to reporting offers us all a glimpse at the authentic emotions of survivors: “Now you get to see a young woman tell her story for herself, but with all of her emotions.”

Reporting by Omar of local survivors in Mysore, India follows controversy about the release last year of an unnamed man charged with participating in the gang rape of a 23-year-old New Delhi medical student back in 2012. The 23-year-old woman died from injuries sustained during the rape weeks later. In 2013, India’s National Crime Records Bureau reported a staggering 900 percent increase in registered rape cases over the past 40 years, proving it’s past time for the country to start listening to survivors and work toward solutions to better protect victims and potential victims.

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CREDIT: Hindustan Times/Facebook

Omar covered local survivors’ harrowing stories for The Climb Against Sexual Abuse, an organization that supports victims of sexual assault through raising awareness, and, as the organization’s name would suggest, through planning therapeutic hikes with organizers and survivors. Mountaineering allows the organization to “send a message of transformation” and “combine adventure with something more meaningful,” according to the organization’s website.

Omar’s approach to interviewing and offering victims a platform, but simultaneously respecting their privacy, will hopefully inspire journalists around the world to think up more creative ways to protect victims while also giving them a voice.