skip navigation

Messaging Sexual Violence in the News

Developing relationships with local news outlets is a great opportunity to help shape and reframe dominant narratives around sexual assault cases and to introduce new dialogue to effectively challenge rape culture and promote social change. Partnerships with journalists can result in accurate representations of survivors in the news, deepened relationships between service providers and the community, and prevention messages that reach a broader audience.

The Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault's (MECASA) work to develop and sustain these messaging efforts with local news outlet, the Bangor Daily News, offers a helpful blueprint for the field. MECASA developed a meaningful and mutually beneficial collaboration which resulted in cross-training, connecting readers to local service providers, improved reporting of sexual assault cases, increased conversation about sexual assault and prevention, and much more. Along the way, they learned some tips and tricks to make this partnership even better, and you will find these below.

Getting Started

  • Editorial departments are a great place to start
  • Face to face meetings help build solid relationships
  • Make it mutually beneficial to sustain the collaboration
  • Acknowledge there are things you both don't know and can learn from each other
  • Be open and assume good intent; victim blaming language is not necessarily intentional
  • Keep your promises and follow-up; remember journalists often have quick deadlines
  • Continually acknowledge good work
  • Go beyond isolated stories and create a big picture to work towards together

Language Matters

MECASA developed a great tool, Reporting on the News: Media Packet for Maine Journalists, that includes a section about the importance of accurate and neutral language when reporting sexual violence.

Remaining objective and balanced is an important aspect of journalism, however sometimes the language used can inadvertently portray victims at fault or as equal actors in the event. We can utilize our expertise as advocates to help media outlets more accurately reflect sexual violence by providing examples of language that puts responsibility of the actions on the reported perpetrator. Additionally, we can explain the significance of naming sexual violence, rather than using euphemisms and non-descriptive language.

A few examples from the media packet include:

  • Using the term "sex scandal" diminishes and sensationalizes the crime. By naming sexual assault and rape we can help readers understand the distinction between what happened and normal, consensual sex.
  • Reporting unwanted sexual contact as "fondling" makes it challenging for readers to understand that this is a crime and is on the spectrum of sexual violence.
  • Referring to the victim as the "accuser" can create sympathy for the person who is accused of the crime, not the actual victim of sexual violence.

Resources

  • Check out MECASA's media packet to get more information about creating shared language with journalists to better support survivors and change community norms around sexual violence.

This tip was inspired by a workshop at the End Violence Against Women International 2014 Conference entitled "Sexual Violence & Journalism: Collaboration Beyond the News" by Cara Courchesne and Erin Rhoda.

Reviewed: April 12th, 2016