Cell phones are ubiquitous, and most of us now carry one with the ability to capture pictures and even video footage. It’s fun and easy to whip out your cell phone, take a picture of your friends, and then email it or post it on Facebook, Flickr, etc. But some people also use their cellphone cameras to document human rights abuses or breaking news. This happens in the US and abroad. A recent example of this, is the shooting and death of a young Iranian woman named Neda, during political protests. A brief cellphone video which captured her shooting and final moments, was posted to the internet, and quickly made its way to viewers around the world, galvanizing further protests in Iran and other countries.
But when it comes to human rights abuses, what is appropriate to document with a cellphone camera? The recent case in Guinea where a stadium full of opposition supporters were attacked, raped, and murdered in full view of crowds on September 28, provides a salient example of what the repercussions can be for the victims whose images are captured on cellphone videos.
During the chaos and violence that erupted in the stadium and the outlying streets, many women were sexually assaulted by soldiers. These assaults were witnessed by many fleeing Guineans, some of whom used cellphone cameras to snap pictures or film video of the assaults. While it is likely that this footage was collected in order to provide proof of the horrific crimes that were being committed, the photos and footage were unregulated and made their way to the internet.
Rape is surely horrific, but becomes even more so when the images of alleged crimes are recorded on cell phones, because the alleged rapes happened in the middle of the day, in public.
The sometimes grotesque photos are then splashed on the internet, a record of the humiliation and shaming of women, making the violations even more painful.
How would any of us feel if the worst moment of our lives were captured on film and posted to the internet, shattering our anonymity, and leaving traces that will remain on the web forever? This additional loss of control for people who have already been victimized, is horrible.
While it is understandable that people will want to document human rights abuses with any means at their disposal, including cellphone cameras, sexual assault should NEVER be broadcast on the internet under any circumstances. If people have footage of abuses that they feel will make a case against a government or other another group, they should provide the footage to rights organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch or give it to a lawyer for safekeeping.