These are the first three sentences, out of more than 40, on an audio loop as part of “The Silence of the Innocents,” an online special report produced by Correio newspaper in Brazil: 

“I wanted to die.”

“My fear is that something like this will happen again.”

“The first step for a woman that is raped is to lock herself. You lock yourself and can’t talk to anyone.”

These statements are actual testimonies of raped women, recorded by the voices of other women to keep the victims’ identities hidden.

The project’s main objective was to present a wide-ranging journalistic investigation about rape, in an innovative way, experimenting with new narrative forms, new interactions, and new ways to engage readers with the content. 

Our focus was on doing as much as possible to bring the readers close to the stories through user-experience innovation. We wanted the content to be presented, consumed, and assimilated in new and surprising ways to make an impact, provoke discomfort, produce reflection, and encourage mobilisation. 

One objective of the project was to bust myths and stereotypes surrounding rape. The majority of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, not by a stranger in a dark alley.
One objective of the project was to bust myths and stereotypes surrounding rape. The majority of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, not by a stranger in a dark alley.

To accomplish this, we created a special editorial team exclusively dedicated to the project and the new ideas for four months. The reporters — Thais Borges, Clarissa Pacheco, and Alexandre Lyrio — talked to different specialists to answer two questions:

  1. Why don’t victims want to talk about the rapes, even to the police?

  2. Why do people, mostly men, commit rape?

Police chiefs, doctors, prosecutors, teachers, profilers, anthropologists, judges, lawyers, Internet specialists, psychologists, and others who work on the front line of public assistance for victims all helped us answer these questions.

Through these intense interviews, we were able to demonstrate how rape victims are invisible to the society. We learned that nine out of 10 victims don’t tell anyone, not even the police, what happened (or still happens) to them.

We also heard and showed audio and video stories from seven women whose experiences didnt fit “stereotypes” of rape. None were assaulted by a stranger on a deserted street, while walking alone at night. Most of them were attacked by someone who was part of their lives, someone they trusted. This kind of rape is the most common in Brazil, especially instances of parents and step-parents assaulting their own children.

We wanted to give readers an idea of a rape victim’s suffering through the sentences that are incessantly repeated. The repetition of this dramatic audio produces a disturbing effect that the audience cannot interrupt — just as the victims cannot interrupt the rapes.

There’s no pause button during a rape, and this audio was our way of creating a multi-media metaphor to engage the audience with a feeling similar to the victims. From the feedback we had, most listeners felt anguished about it, and that’s exactly what we wanted.

We wanted to provoke reflection, so we surprised the reader with the absence of the word “no,” which would be the most common response to surveys asking, “Have you ever been raped?”

Along with powerful audio and video, a map showing all rapes reported in the area in 2015 helped drive home the point that rape is more common than many people realise.
Along with powerful audio and video, a map showing all rapes reported in the area in 2015 helped drive home the point that rape is more common than many people realise.

We wanted our readers to realise that rapes are common, so we visited every police station in the city and made a map of the city showing all 116 rapes reported in 2015. And we wanted the women to be able to speak through our work, so we put out the map in a collaborative partnership with the non-profit Think Olga.

We also wanted readers to know how much the work affected our staff internally, so we made podcasts talking about our feelings during the reporting.

Considering all we wanted, we were pleased with the results of the campaign.

One day after the end of the series, the Public Ministry of the State of Bahia held a public hearing based on the information from the project, and opened an investigation to look into the rape cases and the network of assistance to women in the state. The hearing was attended by prosecutors, secretaries, and ex-secretaries, in addition to reporters, editors, and social leaders. The event was broadcast online. 

During the same week, our series was praised in the Federal Senate for its high quality and notable contribution to the discussion about violence against women in the country.

In one month, the series was viewed more than 100,000 times. All of this content served to provoke questioning on a personal level. We received hundreds of messages from readers who began to reflect about their own experiences.

We credit a large part of this impact to our user experience innovations, which were made possible with good planning and strong teamwork.