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Emerge CEO expresses disapproval of Daily Mirror article

I am writing to express my profound concern regarding the content in Daily Mirror’s article by Shane Seneviratne on child rape, published on 21 December 2023. This article poses dangerous and inaccurate conflations between rape and consent that are factually and legally inaccurate, harmful to survivors, and further perpetuate norms that enable child sexual abuse.  Having worked for 18 years with children who have survived rape in Sri Lanka and as CEO of Emerge Lanka Foundation, I urge the Daily Mirror to take a strong stance against child rape and to carefully consider how articles that the Daily Mirror publishes may condone and/or perpetuate harm. I urge you to consider the gravity of the misinformation presented in the above article and to take immediate action by retracting it from circulation. I also hope you will consider publishing this letter to shed light on the realities faced by children who have survived rape in Sri Lanka and the need for accurate reporting to combat the prevailing culture of silence and misinformation surrounding child sexual abuse.


While child sexual abuse remains a hidden epidemic in Sri Lanka, we have seen firsthand at Emerge how devastating the aftermath of abuse and rape can be. Many children we have worked with struggle to speak, suffer from unimaginable nightmares, and encounter learning difficulties due to flashbacks. These children did not ask for this pain — They did not and could not have consented to their abuse. 


To suggest that anyone could be raped “at their own will” or “with their consent” undermines the very real physical, emotional, psychological impact that rape has on the survivor, rationalizes harm inflicted by perpetrators, and disregards the legal context of consent. Consent, as recognized in Sri Lanka, requires informed and voluntary agreement, which is incompatible with the egregious violation that is rape.


It is possible that the study mentioned in the article is referring to children under the age of 16 who took part in sexual activities. However, in Sri Lanka, the age of consent is 16 so this would be classified as “statutory rape.” Age of consent laws exist to protect the well-being and rights of children, recognizing that individuals under a certain age may lack the legal capacity to provide informed and voluntary consent to sexual activity. They further prevent adults in positions of power over children from exploiting children due to their power over children.


I implore the Daily Mirror to reflect on its role in shaping public discourse and to consider the potential harm caused by disseminating inaccurate and damaging information. It is my sincere hope that, as a responsible media outlet, the Daily Mirror will take immediate steps to rectify this situation and contribute positively to the fight against child sexual abuse.


We invite the Daily Mirror’s team of journalists to a specialized sensitivity training with Emerge Lanka’s team on child sexual abuse and ethical reporting practices for reporting on abuse and interviewing survivors. We hope this is the beginning of a close relationship with the Daily Mirror where we can work together to bring about the change needed to end child sexual abuse in Sri Lanka. 


Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to seeing the Daily Mirror assume a leadership role in fostering a society that prioritizes empathy and the well-being of survivors.


Sincerely,


Alia Whitney-Johnson

Founder and CEO 

Emerge Lanka Foundation 


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