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A blog about human rights in their many forms.

How media coverage of sexual violence gets it wrong

News outlets must work to overcome false narratives and focus on prevention, experts say.
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Indian activists participate in a rally protest against the recent incidents of sexual abuse, molestation and rapes against women in Bangalore on July 20, 2014. (MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The stories seem endless. In India, men raped teenagers and hanged their bodies on trees. In small-town England, gangs groomed thousands of underage girls for systemic rape. In American college campuses, students filmed their schoolmates getting drunk and being abused. And that was just in the last month.

“My sense is there’s a lot of focus on sexual violence in the news media,” said Pamela Mejia, a researcher with the California-based Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG), which is currently analyzing the portrayal of sexual violence in American media.

But while more sexual violence reports seem to make the news lately, much of the coverage still falls short of explaining why and how such attacks happen as well as how they can be prevented, Mejia said.


Worshippers grow weary in battle over Egypt’s mosques

A fractured, more politicized Islam is leaving Egypt's young Muslims disillusioned.
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Egypt's military-installed authorities are tightening their grip on mosques by laying down the theme for the weekly Friday sermons, in the latest move to curb Islamist dissent. The religious endowments (Waqf) ministry in late 2013 dismissed 55,000 imams (prayer leaders) who did not hail from the state-controlled Al-Azhar university, the most prestigious institution in Sunni Islam. (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

CAIRO — The call to prayer rings out over Sherif El-Sabbahy’s neighborhood just before noon, echoing across the urban landscape, drowning out the honking traffic and the chatter of the street market. From his window, El-Sabbahy, 20, can see the stream of men, prayer mats slung over their shoulders, heading to the mosque. But he doesn’t follow.

He nudges his 17-year-old brother. “You ready to go?”

His brother doesn’t look up from the game of “Throne Rush” he is playing on Facebook. “Five minutes,” he says.

According to the Quran, the Friday sermon is obligatory, and El-Sabbahy is the kind of Muslim who once took such responsibilities seriously. But his faith, like that of many young Egyptians of his generation, has become more complicated since the country’s 2011 revolution.


The collective trauma of James Foley and Steven Sotloff’s deaths

Responding to the murder of journalists by terrorists.
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A photo taken on September 29, 2011 shows US freelance reporter James Foley resting in a room at the airport of Sirte, Libya. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON — I didn’t know Jim Foley.

We weren’t colleagues in the field and there are no stark photos of the two of us all dusty from covering a war. In fact, I have never covered a war.

But several weeks ago when a video was released showing his captors beheading him, I felt, like many other young journalists, that it was a personal loss.

I know I wasn’t alone. He somehow belonged to all of us who want to do the kind of journalism he did. And to all of us who want to dare to think about taking some risks and diving into difficult stories, shining light on injustice and violence. It feels that the collective trauma from his killing has echoed beyond the journalism community.


‘Kids want to work’ is a poor justification for laws that legalize work by 10-year-olds

Commentary: Bolivia’s new law sets a bad example, even though child labor has declined by 30 percent since 2000.
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A boy helps his older siblings to wash a car in a street of La Paz on May 7, 2014. Hundreds of Bolivian children work as farmers in the fields, perform dangerous tasks in mines or trying to survive in cities of one of the poorest countries in South America where child labor, far from being prohibited, it is considered a way of developing "social conscience." (AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW YORK — A controversial new law in Bolivia makes it the first country to legalize work by 10-year-olds. One justification offered by officials sounded awfully familiar: “Kids want to work.”

We’ve spent the last year investigating child labor in the United States, where children at age 12, and even younger, work for tobacco farmers like Paul Hornback, a Kentucky state senator.

“Children need to experience things,” Hornback said on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last month. “When I was a 7-year-old, I was wanting to work.”

Hornback wasn’t the first person to try to justify child labor that way.

We’ve heard that argument in our work around the world — whether about children working on gold mines in Mali and Tanzania, children harvesting sugar cane in El Salvador, or child domestic workers in Morocco. Bolivia’s regressive new law was influenced by pressure from a union of child workers arguing they need to work to support their families.

We’re asked, “Don’t these children want to work?”


Mexico is trying to win its war on drugs by using more torture

Mexico's use of torture in the drug war is up 600 percent in last 10 years, reports Amnesty International.
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A member of the Federal Police with an image of Jesus Christ is seen at the entrance of the community of Apatzingan, state of Michoacan, Mexico, on February 12, 2014. Mexican federal forces have taken over police duties in some 20 towns in the restive state of Michoacan, where vigilante groups are fighting a drug cartel. Michoacan, where much of the population lives in poverty, has become the most pressing security issue facing Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto, who inherited a bloody war on drugs. (ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)

MEXICO CITY — Torture and ill-treatment by the police and armed forces in Mexico are out of control, with a 600 percent rise in reported cases in the past decade, according to an investigation by Amnesty International.

Mock executions, electric shocks to genitals, water boarding, rape, beatings and near-asphyxiation using plastic bags are among the most common methods used, documented in the damning report published Thursday.


Beyond murder, Islamic State killing of journalists attacks press freedom

The militant group is taking away journalists' ability to trust their sources — and therefore to do their jobs, an expert says.



A child without a country is a common dilemma facing countries as UNHCR seeks to help

Commentary: UN campaign trying to erase statelessness for 10 million around the world.
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US opera singer and goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Barbara Hendricks (R) looks on as stateless people are registered on June 26, 2014 in a neighborhood of Abidjan during her visit to Ivory Coast to highlight UNHCR's campaign on statelessness. (SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images)

ABIDJAN, Côte d'Ivoire — Until recently, Anastasie, 14, was living under a bridge in a small village in western Côte d'Ivoire. Her mother died when she was a baby. She has never met her father. She was abandoned by her foster family, and has no other ties. She has no documents to prove her identity. No one can vouch for her place of birth or testify that she was born to an Ivorian parent, the strict legal requirement to prove citizenship in Côte d'Ivoire.

Being “from nowhere,” bereft of citizenship, is not just an administrative inconvenience; it has severe consequences. When Anastasie turns 18, she will not be able to go to university or get a job. She will not be allowed to open a bank account, own land, get legally married, register the birth of her children, travel or vote.
Anastasie is not alone. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that close to 10 million people around the world also are stateless and are not considered nationals of any country.


Detained Washington Post reporter in Iran is being used as political pawn

Commentary: In Iran’s current political struggle, it is not just Jason Rezaian and wife Yeganeh Salehi but also the Iranian people who are victims.
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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014. Iran may consider cooperating with the United States in fighting Sunni extremist fighters in Iraq if Washington acts against them, Rouhani told journalists. (Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)

KABUL — It has now been more than a month since my friends, journalists Jason Rezaian and Yeganeh Salehi, were detained in Iran. No formal charges have been brought against them, and nobody knows where they are or who ordered the arrest.

What does seem clear, however, is that they were not arrested for anything they wrote or reported. Rather, the two seem to be used as pawns in a political struggle, of which not just they but also the Iranian people are victims.

Jason, an Iranian-American citizen, has been The Washington Post’s correspondent since 2012. Yeganeh, or Yegi to friends, has reported for various outlets, including the Emirati newspaper, The National and GlobalPost. Both were formally authorized to work as journalists. They were arrested in their Tehran apartment on July 22 by unidentified plainclothes officers who reportedly went to the effort of trashing the place while they were at it.


How can the US better protect girls from violence?

Recent international meetings gave status to policies eliminating female genital mutilation.
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LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 22: Freida Pinto, actress and Plan International Girls' Rights Ambassador, delivers a speech at the 'Girl Summit 2014' in Walworth Academy on July 22, 2014 in London, England. At the one-day summit the government has announced that parents will face prosecution if they fail to prevent their daughters suffering female genital mutilation (FGM). (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Two critical recent events — one in the United Kingdom and one in the US — have given increasing recognition to the rights of adolescent girls.

The Girl Summit in London to end child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) was co-hosted by the UK and UNICEF. “Investing in the Next Generation” was a focus of discussions among more than 40 African heads of state that came to Washington for the first-ever US-Africa Leaders Summit.


Confessions of a 'pro-Palestinian' Israeli diplomat

Commentary: In war with Hamas, Palestinians and Israelis share similar aspirations for peace and normalcy.
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Two Palestinian boys walk amid the rubble of destroyed homes in Shejaiya on August 27, 2014. Shejaiya is one of the hardest hit neighborhoods in fighting between Hamas militants and Israel during 50 days of fighting. Israel and Palestinians both boasted of victory in the Gaza war but analysts say Hamas received only promises while the conflict aggravated divisions in the Israeli leadership. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON — I admit it. I find myself in unfamiliar territory. Twenty-five years in the Israeli Foreign Service, during which I spent much of my time countering terrorism and its supporters, didn't prepare me for this. In our fight against Hamas, I am pro-Palestinian.  


As a human being, an Israeli and a Jew, I cannot ignore the suffering that Gazans — like their Muslim, Christian and Jewish Israeli neighbors across the border — have undergone during two months of fighting. It's truly painful to see.