With social media and private chat groups becoming an increasingly popular option when it comes to communicating official and unofficial news, many are questioning whether this new reality is causing increased damage to those who have suffered abuse and who find their case discussed under the public spotlight without the benefit of anonymity.

The danger becomes even more real in  children and young people whose cases reach the public eye, leaving them vulnerable to potential attacks and bullying. Without the ethical approach and protection usually afforded by traditional media, minors who have already been through trauma run the risk of being exposed to further damage, unless measures to safeguard their interests are put in place.

The Sunday Times of Malta spoke about the issue to therapist Danjela Falzon, who specialises in personal development and identity issues. She confirmed that, when the public is made aware of the identity of the person who suffered abuse, the situation gets more complicated as this can create extra strain on the victim and other family members.

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“For the victim, in particular, this exacerbates a sense of shame they may already feel due to the abuse, as their experience suddenly enters the spotlight. The victim may end up receiving unwanted attention from members of the public, through personal comments denying or doubting their experience,” the therapist pointed out.

Moreover, a victim may also receive personal attacks from people who know the alleged perpetrator, or even from the family itself.

A victim may receive personal attacks from people who know the alleged perpetrator

“The advent of social media brought with it a certain ease among users, with people feeling that they can post insulting, insensitive and abusive comments. Victims may be subject to a barrage of abuse online,” she said.

And, even when the online comments are well-meaning, harm can still be caused.

“They may read seemingly innocent comments from people questioning the facts of the case and discussing it. Typically, people’s approach when writing online comments is that they are writing about an anonymous figure, rather than a human being who has been subject to severe abuse.”

Through some comments, doubts may be raised about whether the victim is responsible for the abuse, putting him or her in a position of shame, self-blame and vulnerability.

She adds that in such cases, anyone in a position of authority needs to be sensitive to the victim and all those involved, with parents, counsellors and educators taking extra precautions.

“All adults need to encourage young people in their care to be sensitive to the victim and to refrain from making any comments based on hearsay and public opinion,” she concluded.  

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