The first thing to remember about crime reporting is that the police — often the primary sources of information — are members of society and therefore are likely to bear the prejudice, bias and ignorance the rest of us do. However, as they are in positions of power, the repercussions of their biases often have a far-reaching impact, especially on marginalised communities.
In crime reporting, one may encounter a member of the LGBTQIA+ community as a victim or an alleged perpetrator.
If the LGBTQIA+ person is a victim:
- When the member of the community is the victim of a crime, consider the role their marginalised position may have played in making them vulnerable to violence.
- Remember that just because a victim is an LGBTQIA+ person, does not mean rape is not rape — although the law may treat it differently.
- Remember to focus on the criminal misconduct rather than the victim’s identity unless relevant to the case. In the case of violence meted out in reaction/response to that identity, look at how responsive authorities and police have been in taking action
- In reporting based on FIRs, which may use a person’s deadname and describe their gender incorrectly, go by what the victim prefers — of if deceased — by how they identified themselves in life.
Example: Recently the mother of a trans woman allegedly organised for her to have her limbs broken, but ended up causing her death. Police used the deceased’s deadname and referred to her sex assigned at birth, etc. The victim’s identity was clearly a factor in the violence against her; in reporting the case one can simply refer to the name she had chosen and her gender identity as a woman. Instead of referring to the accused’s “dismay at her son becoming a woman” one could say “the accused was upset at her child’s gender identity.”
- If there is a case in which LGBTQIA+ persons are being blackmailed because of their identity, it is important to avoid outing someone and endangering them while reporting the crime. One could write the report while protecting the identity of the complainant, and add other details/quotes to make the story more grounded/authentic.
- Sometimes, there may be cases in which LGBTQIA+ persons are being harassed by police/family etc. In such cases, consider whether your report will help them or may make them more vulnerable. If the latter, avoid or hold off until it is safer for the person.
If the LGBTQIA+ person is a perpetrator:
- If an LGBTQIA+ person is booked or arrested or announced as the accused in a case, it is important to ask, while reporting, if their gender identity and sexual orientation are relevant to the case. If it is not relevant, there is no need to mention or focus on it in the report, just because the police may have mentioned it in the FIR or while sharing information of the case.
Example: If an alleged chainsnatcher identifies as queer, is it in any way relevant to the case at hand?
- If the person is accused of committing an act of sexual violence against a minor of the same-sex, the police — or even you — might believe sexuality is relevant. Such crimes have been reported as “attempted to have homosexual relations/gay sex, etc”. However, in these cases, there are two reasons why this should be avoided. First, under the POCSO Act, all sexual contact with a minor is a crime. Language that suggests consent (had gay sex/homosexual relations) is wrong, as under the law, a child is incapable of giving consent. Second, inferences on a person’s sexuality cannot be drawn based on their victim’s sex. This is because a person may assault a minor for various reasons, including opportunity and access. There is a long history of homosexuality being conflated with paedophilia, that has harmed LGBTQIA+ persons and communities. It is important not to feed into such stereotypes while reporting crime.
- If the person is accused of sexually assaulting an adult, the language to use here is of sexual assault or assault, although the section invoked might be something like Section 377 (sodomy). Similarly, when both accused and victim are of the same sex, there is no need to resort to a phrase like “forced xyz to have homosexual relations” or “tried to make abc have homosexual relations.” One can either use “attempted to force abc to have sex” or “attempted to sexually assault” etc.
- Even if an LGBTQIA+ person is the accused/perpetrator, while reporting, it is important to remember their rights to due process and dignity (it is important to remember this with regard to every accused, of course).
- Avoid resorting to moralising terminology if reporting about a person engaged in sex work. Police/NGOs have been known to use language like “rescued them from sex work and gave them other jobs” etc. People engage in sex work for a variety of reasons and what is seen as “rescue” from one side could be seen as harassment/violence/constricting from the other. In such situations use neutral rather than morally-loaded language.