We are no strangers to dark stories in the newsroom – we hold up a mirror to the world and, sometimes, what is reflected back is deeply disturbing. This is one of those stories.
When one of our colleagues alerted us to a story circulating in local Indian media about the sale of mobile phone videos of rape – not in some sinister corner of the dark web but in face-to-face transactions at kiosks – we decided to investigate it.
We had heard that it was especially prevalent in Uttar Pradesh and that, while the videos were openly available for sale, shopkeepers were cautious about selling them to non-locals. So we commissioned a local freelance journalist, Asad Ashraf, to look into it.
Careful to document our steps, we provided him with a hidden camera and asked him to find people who sell these videos and to obtain them as evidence.
Within days, our reporter confirmed that these videos were available for sale – for between Rs 20 to Rs 200 (30 cents to $3), basically the price of a sandwich.
All somebody looking to buy one had to do was walk into one of these small shops, ask for a “rape video” or a “local film”, as these videos are euphemistically referred to, and in a matter of seconds it would be transmitted to their mobile phone, often via WhatsApp, or downloaded on to a memory card.
The women and girls shown being raped in these videos are identifiable – no effort has been made by the attackers to conceal the identities of their victims or, in some cases, their own. Anti-rape activists we spoke to explained that this was often the point: for the attackers to brag about their exploits and to shame their victims into silence.
The women and girls know that they are being filmed. In fact, the act of filming becomes part of the assault, and the physical and emotional dismantling of the victims.
In some instances, the rapists mimic camera angles from western pornographic videos. Sometimes, one of the attackers directs the filming.
We asked our reporter to contact police about the videos, but local law enforcement seemed unaware of the issue. Some politicians seemed to know about them and to be shocked that the perpetrators were going unpunished.
As for the material we acquired in the course of our investigation, we have destroyed all digital copies used to render the very select images we included in the article. And, in an effort to protect the women and girls from further victimisation, the footage our reporter found in India will be turned over to the appropriate anti-rape and women’s rights advocacy groups.