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Before we tell you about this next story, a warning that it discusses a disturbing topic, and you might not want children listening for the next three and a half minutes. Last month, a popular photo magazine called LensCulture posted a photo to Facebook of what appeared to be a man raping a girl in India. The girl looks like a teenager. The incident infuriated journalists and readers, and human rights activists say it raises a question of how young girls in the developing world are depicted in the media. NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff reports.
MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF, BYLINE: According to the caption of the photo, the girl was 16 years old and was being forced to have sex with a man in the red-light district of Kolkata, India. Donna Ferrato has been documenting violence against women for more than 35 years. She was one of the first photo journalists to speak out against the photo.
DONNA FERRATO: When I first saw the photo, I was really devastated. It was such a disgusting image.
DOUCLEFF: One of the things that bothered Ferrato was how the photographer chose to show the girl. He photographed her from above with her face in full view.
FERRATO: This was really shocking to me. He made no attempt to cover this poor girl's face.
DOUCLEFF: And by showing her face, activists say the photo revealed the girl's identity. This identification violates UNICEF's guidelines for reporting on children being abused. The image was part of a series on sex trafficking in India, which had won several awards. LensCulture used the image to promote a competition in partnership with Magnum Photos, one of the most prestigious photo agencies in the world.
Emma Daly at Human Rights Watch says a photo like this would probably never have been published if it had been taken here in the US.
EMMA DALY: I find it almost impossible to imagine the circumstances in which an American girl, possibly even a white girl, would have been shown in this way.
DOUCLEFF: Instead, Daly says images like this tend to be published only when they show girls or women in some faraway place - often, women of color in poor countries. Then, these images reinforce stereotypes.
DALY: We really struggle sometimes to have women and girls shown as real people - to be shown as protesters or advocates or survivors, people with strength and real dignity and real agency rather than just victims.
DOUCLEFF: The photograph was taken by a rising star in photojournalism, Souvid Datta. He didn't respond to NPR's request for an interview, but he posted a statement on his Facebook page saying that he was, quote, "horrified" that the photo was used to promote a competition. He also defended his decision to expose the girl's identity in order to, quote, "raise constructive awareness about sex trafficking."
But human rights activist Robert Godden at the nonprofit Rights Exposure doesn't agree. He said over Skype that lack of awareness is not the issue for sex trafficking in Kolkata. Journalists have been documenting it for decades.
ROBERT GODDEN: It's not like this is a hidden problem. So then you have to ask yourself questions, strategically, is exposing it like this really the best way to go? My opinion - I don't think so.
DOUCLEFF: LensCulture took the photo down hours after it was posted. Two days later, they issued an apology saying that they had made a serious mistake in judgment in using the photo to promote a competition. They said it was their fault not Magnum Photos, but they defended the image and the photographer.
A few days later, however, LensCulture changed its mind. The CEO of the magazine told NPR they no longer stand by the story or the photographer. Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF GILLES PETERSON'S HAVANA CULTURA BAND'S, "AFRO NUPA ABANDAO")
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