Last Wednesday, a horrible tragedy befell Intan Novita, a 22-year-old singer from Bandung, who was splashed in her face and body with acid by unidentified motorcyclists while she was driving her car with the driver’s window down.
There haven’t been much in terms of developments in her case, particularly regarding the identities of her assailants. Yet what’s really troubling is that many media outlets in Indonesia are seemingly trying to fill the void with an irrelevant discussion about Intan’s “cantik”-ness, or beauty.
These are some headlines that illustrate the fact:
Brilio.net – Ini foto-foto Intan Novita, gadis cantik yang diseram air keras, duh (These are the photos of Intan Novita, the pretty girl who was splashed with acid, ouch)
JawaPos.com – Wajah cantik mahasiswi Intan Novita rusak seketika, jadi begini… (The pretty face of college student Intan Novita is destroyed in an instant into this…)
Indowarta.com – Ini dia Intan Novita, gadis cantik mirip Aura Kasih yang jadi korban air keras jadi rusak seketika! (This is Intan Novita, the pretty girl who looks like Aura Kasih who was victim of acid attack, destroyed in an instant!)
Detik.com – Biduan cantik disiram air keras, polisi periksa keluarga dan teman Intan (Pretty singer splashed with acid, police investigating family and friends of Intan)
These headlines (and the articles themselves) once again make me wonder why there seems to be such a strong correlation between a woman’s level of attractiveness and media coverage/sympathy in Indonesia. If Intan weren’t “cantik” by the media’s standards, would it make her assault any less horrific? Does this imply that if the victim were “ugly”, the story wouldn’t be as newsworthy? What about male victims, are they ever referred to as “ganteng” (handsome)?
The victim’s appearance should be completely irrelevant to the reporting of just about all criminal cases. But, as anybody who regularly consume Indonesian media is probably already well aware, this is not a new phenomenon. Do a Google news search for “korban cantik” (beautiful victim) to see what I mean.
This is not a problem limited to the tabloid media in Indonesia. Even credible news websites can be guilty of sexism in their reporting. The Detik article above illustrates this, as do the these articles from Tempo and Kompas, both of which are considered standard bearers for quality journalism in Indonesia.
It’s time that media outlets in Indonesia start reporting on crime victims, regardless of gender and physical appearance, with the professionalism and sensitivity they deserve. Whatever these media outlets’ motivation may be, be it pageviews or some kind of backhanded sympathy towards victims, it is not worth violating the victims’ dignity and perpetuating the toxic, misogynistic view that somebody’s physical appearance somehow determines the value of their life.