The Picture of Taraneh

Since June, the protests in Iran have been defiant, powerful and have shown that the Iranian people are a force to be reckoned with. The chants, slogans, and even the motives behind the protests have changed, and what was once seen to be an act of defiance against very obvious vote-rigging has become something different altogether. Protestors have been railing against the hypocrisy of the regime and many people have paid the price with their lives. More often than not, they are young people—those whose futures have been snatched away, whose blood soaks the cement, and whose families are threatened with violence.

One of those people has been a young Iranian woman named Taraneh, which means “song,” in Persian. According to numerous blogs and websites, (including the popular liberal website, The Huffington Post,) in June, mourners had gathered at a mosque in Tehran, awaiting a speech by Mir Hossein Mousavi honoring the martyrs of the post-election protests. Taraneh was among the group of people who were arrested by plainclothesed security for attending, and disappeared without a trace.

According to numerous blogs, her family heard nothing for weeks until an anonymous tipster alerted the family that Taraneh had been hospitalized in the Imam Khomeini Hospital near Tehran. The family didn’t know much about her condition except that she had been badly injured—according to the tipster, she had been hospitalized for  injuries consistent with rape; the “rupturing of her womb and anus in… an unfortunate accident.” 

Once the family arrived at the hospital, they were informed that she wasn’t there, but had been at the hospital a few days prior, unconscious the entire time. Soon after the hospital visit, a government official warned them to stay quiet about the story, and insisted that the government had nothing to do with it. They told the family her disappearance and stay at the hospital was not to be associated with the protests, but rather, her own guilt at having pre-marital sex. 

Many witnesses have since come forward and said they saw Taraneh physically and mentally abused at Evin, Iran’s notorious prison for political dissidents. Like many others, she was reported to have been brutally raped by the Basiji security forces and left for dead. 

What has happened to Taraneh after that is up for debate. Some blogs and Twitter accounts are reporting that her family was informed that a burned corpse matching her description had been found in a desert. Others have said that she is still alive, but has withdrawn from society because of the shame she is experiencing in the aftermath of the rape. All of the information coming in has been conflicting and unconfirmed.

Though it is extremely difficult to verify the events and protests unfolding in Iran because of the government’s crackdown, many citizen journalists have filled the void by taking their own video, recording on their cell phones and updating blogs and Twitter accounts. However, this means that all of the information has not been vetted or checked. The authenticity of Taraneh’s story cannot be guaranteed, and even the call that suggested she was raped was given by someone who wished to remain anonymous. 

Whatever the details may be of happened to Taraneh, the media has picked up on her tragic narrative with fervor. Most blogs and websites that have written about her story, (including The Huffington Post,) have posted a picture of the young woman. This is clearly a double standard in western media ethics. Under almost no circumstances, do reporters release or post pictures of the victims without permission. 

We must ask ourselves, why is it different with an Iranian woman? Why does the media feel it is not appropriate to release the identities of rape victims within their own country, but do so freely with victims from abroad? This woman has been terribly violated in the worst way possible, and to spread her picture and information around the world violates her again. There is still a terrible stigma attached to rape and it’s victims in many countries, including Iran. By posting her picture along with her story, Taraneh may never fully be able to move past what happened, if she is indeed alive. 

That brings us to why this happened in the first place. American media would never have posted the picture of a rape victim in the U.S, especially if she was a private citizen as Taraneh is. There seems to be an “us vs. them” mentality here at work. This makes the victims of these crimes to be “others,” which we may point to and gawk and prod at their misery, while “our” victims should be shielded and protected. 

This story not only highlights where the media’s ethics have gone, but also offers an unfortunate but enlightening glimpse into how journalism’s standards have fallen in the past few generations. The bandwagon effect has also been seen in full effect. Once one blog posted the picture, so did others, which no one questioned. They only followed suit, and reposted the picture as if to say ‘well, hadn’t the harm been done already?’

Granted, the situation in Iran has been very difficult for journalists to cover and therefore they rely on bloggers or amateur citizen journalists more and more often. However, there is a responsibility that comes along with reporting stories such as these; it’s as if the ethics violations have gone viral There is not only the woman behind the photograph, but her family, her friends, and the potential consequences it could bring to the victim. 

The media must not differentiate between how to report on crimes committed domestically, and those committed abroad. A victim is a victim no matter where they hail from, and whether they are from Iran or Idaho, there should be across-the-board respect and understanding that ought to be afforded to all.

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