Italian Photographer Dropped from Grant for Identifying Rape Victims

Italian photographer Marco Gualazzini has been dropped from a revered photography grant after he was accused of breaking child protection laws and putting underage victims of rape in danger by revealing their identities without their consent.

The Art Newspaper reports that as the allegations came to light, Gualazzini was dropped from the shortlist of the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography — a prize that values integrity and rewards exploration of significant aspects of the contemporary world.

Gualazzini had been included on the grant’s shortlist for his 2019 series, titled “Mwavita—Born at Time of War,” which focuses on child survivors of the civil war in Congo. However, the award’s adjudication panel chair Marcia Allert publicly retracted Gualazzini’s inclusion in the prize after the damning allegations came to light.

The photographer stands accused of identifying child victims of rape during his work with humanitarian charities in India and Africa and endangering the lives of his subjects in addition to broking child protection laws by revealing victims’ full names alongside his published pictures.

The allegations primarily focus on a series he produced in India in 2017 while working with a charity that supports a shelter for female survivors of sexual and domestic violence. He is accused of representing underage women, photographed at the shelter, as survivors of rape in several posts on Instagram and on an Italian website.

The underage women had their full names displayed in image captions, alongside Gualazzini’s own details of how they came to be the victims of sexual abuse. His critics allege that the provided descriptions were often inaccurate and misrepresented the trauma the victims had lived through.

India’s Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, makes it illegal to publish a photo of a child that identifies them as a survivor of sexual abuse, which means that Gualazzini may have broken the country’s law while on Indian soil.

During his time shooting at the shelter, Sarika Sinha, the director of policy, campaigns, and communications for ActionAid India, told The Art Newspaper that Gualazzini “was asking very intimate questions about the women. Then he started filming them, without properly asking them first, from angles that made me feel very uncomfortable.”

It has been argued that his actions failed to safeguard vulnerable children and put their lives at risk because victims that have been identified are likely to experience shame-based stigmatization, ostracization from their families, violent abuse, and so-called honor killings.

“When I saw what he had published, I was totally shocked. To sensationalize their stories in this way, to do this without properly seeking consent, without consulting with us at all—how unethical can you be? And [the photographs] are illegal in India, too. Now their names are out there. And yet this man is still winning photography prizes in the West,” Sinha says.

Gualazzini’s Congo series, which were initially shortlisted for the prize, followed a similar pattern of disregard for victims’ privacy and the effect it can have on their lives. Images from these series also appeared in mainstream media, such as Vanity Fair Italy, Al Jazeera, and Gualazzini’s own social media feeds.

Although the allegations first appeared in 2017, he continued to win awards. In 2019 World Press Photo’s “Environment” category, he won the first prize and the organization decided not to act on the allegations, in stark contrast to the stance that W. Eugene Smith prize fund has taken.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.