February 16, 2016

Journalists report most stories of sexual violence in a straightforward fashion, focusing on reported cases that are handled within the legal system. Such coverage perpetuates the myth that sexual crimes seldom happen to residents in your community. There are other problems with this approach to reporting.

  • It does not acknowledge that more than 60 percent of incidents are never reported to police
  • It focuses only on reported cases and fails to communicate other stories about sexual violence such as its prevalence, its impact and how to prevent these crimes from happening.

Journalists must be mindful that countless people are affected by sexual violence in their communities and that there are many stories to tell. Here are some additional approaches:

Consider stories that go beyond criminal justice proceedings. Instead, focus on stories that explore community responses, explain the short- or long-term health effects of victimization or offer parents information about red flags that could signal abuse.

Brainstorm story ideas with advocates against sexual violence and experts on the subject. These sources are noticing trends and have access to information that reporters don’t generally have.

Focus on the community-health angle or hold systems accountable. What happens to a person who comes forward and reports sexual abuse? Who are the people in the community that assist victims? Where does most reported sexual violence occur in the community, and what are authorities doing to change that? What measures are being taken to prevent sexual violence and educate the public? What has worked — and what hasn’t? How does the region compare with other communities when it comes to reported sexual violence per capita?

Staff at local rape crisis centers can give you a real sense of the stories that never make it to court. Compare the number of calls that come into the crisis center each month with the number of cases that actually make it to court. Report on why those numbers are so different. Crisis centers can also provide access to experts and sources for future stories.

Taken from Reporting on Sexual Violence, a self-directed course by Tracy Cox at Poynter NewsU.

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Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current…
Vicki Krueger

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