July 1, 2021

Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

Start with this figure from RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network:

“Only 310 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police. That means more than 2 out of 3 go unreported.”

And now, with the release of Bill Cosby from prison, people who work with abuse survivors worry that they will lose even more trust that the justice system will take them seriously.

USA Today warns us to be careful with the language we use covering this story:

Dr. Elizabeth Jeglic, a clinical psychologist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who specializes in sexual violence prevention, says certain cues or contexts can trigger memories of sexual assault.

“When you see a high-profile case like Cosby’s become overturned, it can make (survivors) feel helpless and hopeless again,” Jeglic says. “It takes a lot for somebody to come forward and go through the criminal justice process. And when justice is still not served, it revictimizes survivors all over again and brings back those memories of the trauma itself.”

The same can be true for reading headlines and news stories about sexual assault, according to Sonya Martinez-Ortiz, a therapist and executive director at the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“Media coverage of sexual violence… especially those that are high-profile, can pose many challenges for survivors,” she said, including memory recall of a traumatic event.

“It can actually really mirror or mimic some of the things they felt when they were assaulted,” she adds. “For some people, it may even bring up an experience that they had not even thought about or considered in quite some time.”

It is exceedingly difficult to nail down precise details about unreported cases because they are, of course, unreported. But there are databases like this one that the following statistics are based on.

For every 1,000 rapes

  • 384 are reported to police
  • 57 result in an arrest
  • 11 are referred for prosecution
  • 7 result in a felony conviction, and
  • 6 result in incarceration.

Of the sexual violence crimes reported to police, the survivors who reported the crimes gave the following reasons for doing so:

  • 28% to protect the household or victim from further crimes by the offender
  • 25% to stop the incident or prevent recurrence or escalation
  • 21% to improve police surveillance or they believed they had a duty
  • 17% to catch/punish/prevent offender from reoffending
  • 6% gave a different answer, or declined to cite one reason
  • 3% did so to get help or recover loss

Of the sexual violence crimes not reported to police, the survivors gave the following reasons for not reporting:

  • 20% feared retaliation
  • 13% believed the police would not do anything to help
  • 13% believed it was a personal matter
  • 8% reported to a different official
  • 8% believed it was not important enough to report
  • 7% did not want to get the perpetrator in trouble
  • 2% believed the police could not do anything to help
  • 30% gave another reason, or did not cite one reason

And now, add to that when a celebrity who was convicted of sexual abuse was convicted and the case was overturned — and not because of new evidence, but because a procedural error.


As you explore the effects that Cosby’s release has on sexual assault victims, I recommend you keep an eye on the work of The Marshall Project, which is a perpetual source of great criminal justice reporting and has a long history of covering the topic of sexual assault.

And journalists, consider adding a tag like this to all of your stories about this case, just as you usually do when you are covering suicide stories:

If you are a survivor of sexual assault, RAINN offers support through the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE & online.rainn.org).

Heading into the July 4 weekend, a severe blood shortage

Wendy Tuttle, a hospitality industry recruiter from Mar Vista, Calif., wears a face mask and gloves, as she donates blood for the first time at the American Red Cross office in Santa Monica, Calif., Thursday, March 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

The American Red Cross says there is a national blood shortage as we approach a holiday weekend.

Pin part of this to the fact that after the pandemic eased, elective surgeries, organ transplants and trauma cases rose. Some hospitals are slowing their surgery schedule. Type O blood and platelets, most often used for cancer patients, are in especially short supply.

The Red Cross issued an appeal:

“The Red Cross is currently experiencing a severe blood shortage,” said Chris Hrouda, president of Red Cross Biomedical Services. “Our teams are working around the clock to meet the extraordinary blood needs of hospitals and patients — distributing about 75,000 more blood products than expected over the past three months to meet demand — but we can’t do it without donors. Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood.”

Right now, hospitals are responding to an atypically high number of traumas and emergency room visits. In comparison to 2019, the Red Cross has seen red cell demand from hospitals with trauma centers climb by 10% in 2021 — more than five times the growth of other facilities that provide transfusions. Twenty to 40% of trauma deaths that occur after hospital admission involve massive hemorrhaging. In these dire circumstances, doctors may need hundreds of blood products, depending on the severity of the trauma, to help save a life.

In Tulsa, the blood supply dropped to “emergency low” levels this week.

In Texas, where they usually have a four- or five-day blood supply, the level now is at an emergency low level of one or two days’ supply. KAUZ-TV reports:

“In the past month, we’ve seen a dramatic drop in blood donations, an alarming development when we were already facing chronic shortfalls,” said Dr. John Armitage, president and CEO of Texas Blood Institute. “The public is rightly enjoying the reawakening of social freedoms and a return to normalcy, but if celebrating this rebirth by giving blood does not immediately become a major part of people’s reopening activities, we are going to run out of blood for patients. Harm may well result for many of the sickest folks in our communities.”

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says it is a similar story in Wisconsin. “We have a 40% shortage compared to the first quarter of 2020,” said Michelle Waite of Versiti Blood Center of Wisconsin. “That’s a pretty significant shortage in order to maintain the community blood supply at our local hospitals.”

USA Today reports that in northern Nevada, blood banks have about 50% less supply than normal. USA Today quotes Dr. Claudia Cohn, the American Association of Blood Banks’ chief medical officer, who said she had never seen blood bank supply levels this sparse. And the Association of Blood Banks’ Interorganizational Task Force on Domestic Disasters and Acts of Terrorism “says the blood supply in the United States has dropped to ‘red’ level, meaning most of the nation’s blood bank inventories have less than a one-day supply.”

Ammo shortage after Americans bought a record number of guns during the pandemic

Market research company Southwick Associates polled 1,800 ammunition suppliers around America and found 75% of the stores have severe ammunition shortages. This also happened last year when people ran out and bought guns in unprecedented numbers.

Why are people buying up ammo? Southwick asked and heard:

In all, nearly 80 percent of those who participated in the survey either canceled or reduced shooting-related activities due to the shortage. Only 17 percent were satisfied with the number of cartridges and/or shotshells they have on hand, while two thirds stated they would prefer to own more.

“At some point, demand will certainly soften,” said Rob Southwick, president of Southwick Associates. “However, frenzied purchasing and empty shelves often fuels further increases in demand. We do not see demand softening in the near future.”

When respondents were asked why they needed more ammunition, survey results showed a marked difference between age groups.

  • Those between the ages of 25 and 34 were more likely to indicate it was needed to supply their shooting and hunting activity.
  • Enthusiasts more than 45 years of age dominated the group motivated by uncertainty in future supply. Overall, the vast majority of participants — 72 percent — cited the latter concern.
  • Seven out of 10 said restrictions were also a motivating factor, and
  • 54 percent indicated economic uncertainty was also a factor.
  • Lack of cartridges for their field or firing-line pursuits was the motivation for 26 percent.

The Spokesman-Review in Spokane talked to experts who said the shortage could last two years or longer. That reporting found the shortage is so severe that police departments are limiting the amount of ammo that officers can use at the training range:

Mark Oliva, director of public affairs for National Shooting Sports Foundation, said he’s concerned about finding ammunition for fall hunting seasons.

“I wish I could give you better news, but we are going to be dealing with this dearth of ammo for the foreseeable future,” he said last week. “Some manufacturers are saying maybe for the next two years.

“Remington came back online in Arkansas, and that’s helpful, but all the manufacturers have been working as hard as they can to make as much ammo as they can and it’s still not enough.”

NSSF officials say the shortages are the result of a combination of booming demand caused mostly by the COVID 19 lockdowns and social unrest. Oliva said that a record 21 million firearms background checks for gun sales were conducted by the FBI in 2020 — including 8.4 million for first-time gun buyers.

“The previous record was 15.7 million gun sales (checks) in 2016,” he said. “The number was 13.2 million in 2019.”

He said 8.5 million firearms have been sold this year through May 31, up from 8.1 million sold during that period in the record year of 2020.

“Everybody who buys a gun also buys ammunition,” he said, adding that if each of the 21 million firearms sold in 2020 went out the door with just 50 rounds of ammo, that would amount to more than 1 billion rounds in addition to the shooting consumption of the many millions of guns already out there.

What does infrastructure have to do with climate change? We are seeing the evidence.

The sun shines near the Space Needle, Monday, June 28, 2021, in Seattle. Seattle and other cities broke all-time heat records over the weekend, with temperatures soaring well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 Celsius). (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

When President Joe Biden pushed for some projects in his infrastructure bill to address climate change, some people wondered what one had to do with the other. The current West Coast heat wave is providing some answers.

KING-TV reports, “Sound Transit slowed Sounder and Link light rail trains, citing the extreme heat. High temperatures can cause rails to expand, the agency said, and can even cause overhead power supply lines to lose tension.”

Gizmodo notes:

Power cables are melting. School districts are closing. Asphalt is too hot to touch. The heat wave roasting the Pacific Northwest is putting infrastructure at risk. The failures show the staggering toll the climate crisis is already taking—and they’re a stark warning for the future if we don’t shore up roads, buildings, and other infrastructure central to modern life.

A lack of oil tank drivers creates a gasoline shortage for some this weekend

Most of the 44 million Americans who plan to be out driving somewhere this weekend will find enough gasoline to do what they want. But there are and will be spotty shortages. Parts of California, Iowa and Colorado have already felt the pinch.

The problem has nothing to do with oil supplies or pipelines. The problem is that there are not enough drivers to take the wheel in oil delivery trucks.

The industry trade group National Tank Truck Carriers said recently that

almost one-quarter of the country’s tanker trucks are sitting unmanned. The NTTC says, “Trucking’s driver shortage already exceeds 50,000 drivers.” The American Trucking Association says the larger trucking industry will need to hire roughly 1.1 million drivers over the next decade, or an average of 110,000 per year.

Two remarkable deep dives worth your time

The New York Times just published its six-month effort to document in unprecedented visual detail how the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection unfolded.  The project involved the Times’ synchronizing and mapping out thousands of videos and matching them with police radio dispatches.

The second deep dive is from my colleagues at PolitiFact, who write:

PolitiFact has reviewed court filings and other information for hundreds of defendants facing charges related to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol in an ongoing effort to document what role misinformation played. This report reflects our initial findings about the way that hundreds of false claims about the 2020 election being stolen contributed to the events of that day.

PolitiFact reviewed court filings, news reports and other information for approximately 430 defendants arrested through June 1 on charges related to the insurrection. Many defendants saw their actions as patriotic, and the day as a turning point in American history. They believed they were on the frontlines of a new revolution or civil war.

In about half of the cases, the court documents shed light on how misinformed beliefs influenced the defendants’ lives ahead of the riot.

We’ll be back Tuesday, July 6, with a new edition of Covering COVID-19. Are you subscribed? Sign up here to get it delivered right to your inbox.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

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