FEMFACTS
08 Apr 2019

Child abuse as clickbait

How do you write about a thirteen-year-old girl pregnant with the child of a thirty-year-old man without once mentioning the word abuse? 

Editorial Team
Nataša Vajagić NewsMavens, Europe
Child abuse as clickbait - NewsMavens
Girl, PixaBay

UK magazine Mirror recently published a story about a neglected young girl addicted to drugs and alcohol who suffered sexual abuse at a very young age. Today Lowri Hawkins is dedicated to helping others who face struggles similar to hers.

The Croatian media then picked up on the story and gave it a twist of their own.

WHAT ARE THE CLAIMS?

Mirror’s article, whose tone was inadequate and callous to begin with, was translated and published on the Croatian news portal Net.hr. There it was turned into a sensationalist piece with this headline:

“HORROR: A girl (13) weighing 32 kg had sex and got pregnant. People were in shock when they found out who the father is”.

The article first describes the morning routine of the girl, who would drink vodka daily, was addicted to cocaine and took Mephedrone and cannabis. As for her abuser, who was 30 at a time, this is how he is mentioned after he was introduced as “the father”:

“By 13, she'd gotten pregnant by a man more than twice her age, who knew her age, but had still started a sexual relationship with her.”

The article then describes how they met, how her abuser agreed to buy her alcohol if she gave him her phone number; how he touched her inappropriately for the first time and how she felt it was wrong, but, being in a foster care system, with a biological father who neglected her, she craved the attention. Eventually she got pregnant by her abuser, Robert Davies, who is now 37 years old. He threatened her and told her not to tell anyone. She had an abortion.

Describing the relationship between the 30-year-old man and the 13-year-old girl after she had an abortion, the author concludes that, at times, things were good between them:

“She was still in touch with Davies but only on and off. Sometimes things were good, other days he wouldn't speak to her.”

WHAT ARE THE FACTS?

After watching a documentary about girls who suffered sexual abuse, Hawkins decided to come forward and report her abuser. He was later sentenced to 10 years in prison for abusing her and another girl.

Hawkins, now 19, has been nominated for a national award for the work she has done to help others. She now works with police officers, helping them learn how to approach kids who are in a situation similar to the one she was in. She has been off drugs for six years and is now a mother.

The article about her, published in the Croatian news portal Net.hr, is a translation of the one published on Mirror. But Net.hr added it’s own headline and subtitle, where the rape was described as her “first sexual intercourse”, and her interaction with the child abuser as a “relationship”. It also emphasized her weight, juxtaposing her low body weight with the fact that she was pregnant in a clear attempt to add "shock value" to get more clicks. The work the young woman is doing now, which was the reason for the news report in the first place, was only mentioned in passing.

For comparison, the story had a very different tone in other UK media. Wales Online, for example, titled the article:“The heartbreaking story of a 12-year-old who was hooked on cocaine and had an abortion at 13 - Lowri Hawkins, now 19, has transformed her life and is helping other victims of sexual offences.”

Other headlines also emphasize the abuse she suffered and the strength she showed in kicking her drug addiction:

“Girl was cocaine addict at 12 and had abortion at 13 by abuser twice her age” (Metro),

“Teen drug addict’s incredible journey back to health” (News),

”Sexual abuse survivor who bravely went public to improve support services shortlisted in St David Awards” (South Wales Argus),

“St David Awards: Fighting back after sexual exploitation” (BBC).  

Unlike most of its UK counterparts, Net.hr took a sensationalist approach when reporting about pedophilia. By emphasizing that a 13-year-old “had sex and got pregnant” or “used drugs and alcohol”, Net.hr creates the impression that the girl is to blame for what happened to her.

This kind of media coverage focuses on the actions and responsibility of victims, suggesting that the behavior of the girl -- drinking, using drugs or even “consenting” -- could be the reason why the abuse occurred. The responsibility of the perpetrator -- an adult, unlike his underage victim -- is erased.

The headline of the article was changed after Facebook page “Our Daily Sexism” pointed out that the girl didn’t “have sex”, but that she was raped. The headline now states:

“Girl aged twelve became addicted to cocaine and vodka and had abortion at 13: “I didn’t listen. I was in a bad place”

CONCLUSION

We rate this article as clickbait -- a sensationalist headline created to stir curiosity of the readers, all the while ignoring the abuse suffered by a child and downplaying sexual violence against women.

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Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

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