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Editorial: Report #MeToo with care

It seemed to begin with reports of sexual assault by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, continued by singer and former MP Jennifer Ferguson’s allegation that she was raped by football administrator and politician Danny Jordaan and sparked afresh by accusations against movie star Kevin Spacey.

The #MeToo campaign has had women the world over speaking out about sexual violence committed against them — ordinary women as well as the more famous faces whose words get an instant hearing.

But the sexual violation of women and girls has been an issue for a long time. Rape has been described as endemic in South Africa. This newspaper has run terrifying stories about rape culture in places such as Diepsloot, but it’s clear that the sexual violation of women takes place just as readily in the palaces and five-star hotel rooms of the rich, famous and politically powerful.

More than a decade ago, Jacob Zuma, on the way to becoming president, was charged with rape. He was acquitted but his testimony in the trial and other, later comments showed him to be a patriarchal traditionalist, whose attitude towards women, and his sense of entitlement as a man, is deplorable.

We endorse any attempts to break the silence that often surrounds the testimony of women who have suffered sexual abuse. For too long, their attempts have led to more suffering at the hands of the authorities who are supposed to help them, which has not encouraged victims to go to the law. So any means that allow women who have suffered sexual violence to articulate their pain are to be welcomed.

But the media (besides the barely regulated social media) have a duty that goes beyond simply reporting accusations. Are we to presume that all those accused are guilty? To name them, without their having been convicted in a court for such a crime, is itself a crime.

Readers will note that the Comment & Analysis section of this edition carries two substantial, thoughtful pieces on the dilemmas faced by journalists in this tricky domain. There is another on the legal issues involved in such reporting on our website. We hope to develop this debate.

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