Reporting on Rape and Sexual Violence: A Media Toolkit

Reporting on Rape and Sexual Violence: A Media Toolkit

Link to Interview on Web

26 MARCH 2013 

Claudia Garcia-Rojas

Claudia Garcia-Rojas of the Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls & Young Women talks to Peace X Peace staff member, Nawal Rajeh about their media toolkit, Reporting on Rape and Sexual Violence: A Media Toolkit for Local an....

What are your beginnings of work with The Chicago Taskforce and this Media Toolkit?

I got involved first with The Chicago Taskforce in 2010 and have been a part of the organization for 3 years. In January of 2012, I was promoted to take over the Chicago Taskforce. While I was previously supporting its media and research initiatives (for example, I investigated how public hospital medical professionals respond to girls that report sexual violence, research that led to my developing policy recommendations and testifying before the Cook County Commission on Women’s Issues), I moved to handle everything from the organization’s communications to social media to  public releases, etc. With that came the responsibility to lead our largest project: Reporting on Rape and Sexual Violence: A Media Toolkit to Local and National Journalists to Better Media Coverage. I co-authored and edited this 45-page toolkit, and what is most exciting is that it there are currently no updated materials for journalists to report on this issue. Our toolkit includes sections on how violence against girls and young women is intersectional, considerations for language, good and bad reporting examples, and resources.

Prior to this project, the Chicago Taskforce organized monthly roundtables and invited advocates, community members, and organizers to discuss issues affecting girls and young women. These roundtables allowed us to identify actions we could take around the issues we found are plaguing our communities the most. Some of the issues were recorded in the form of an occasional paper series, and discuss youth-based sexual violence prevention strategies, early exposure to abuse prevention, and a case study for replacing trauma and violence with youth.  Our roundtable discussions also led to our identifying a need to addresses the way that journalists cover issues of rape and sexual violence, and a need to better engage journalists. We knew that producing a media toolkit would be The Chicago Taskforce’s next move.

Reporting on Rape and Sexual Violence was completed in September–we are currently adding a section on disability and violence. The Toolkit will continue to get modified depending on the media environment. The press release for the Toolkit was sent out in October and it was really well received.

My plan is to reach out to different editors, meet and talk with them about why the Toolkit it so important and how it can get incorporated in their reporting, investigative stories, and research.

What is it the Toolkit trying to address in the current trends in reporting on sexual violence?

Most reporting that happens on issues of rape and sexual violence reflects a very biased and/or uninformed perspective. This is ironic considering that the point of journalism is to have reporting that is fair and balanced.

We know that most reporting that happens is biased because a large percentage of crime and news stories that report on sexual violence incidents tend to blame the the victim who is most often a woman or girl. What adds to the bias reporting are the unnecessary, superfluous details peppered throughout these stories. For example, most stories make replete statements about how the victim looked (she was wearing tight clothing or too much makeup for her age), and in some instances, when the story involves a minor, the parents are also blamed. Mary Elizabeth William’s from Salon writes on this, and we included her “Stop Calling it a Sex Scandal” article in our Toolkit. William’s puts it nicely when she says “when we call rape or sexual violence a sex scandal- its like calling an armed robbery a shopping scandal.” It’s a good visual how news tends to sensationalize these stories for profits and ratings. Ultimately, media sites profit by creating a sense of scandal around serious and sensitive issues.  Take for instance, high level cases where that involve politicians or bankers. In these stories, there is more emphasis placed on uncovering details that help frame the victim as a liar before she’s even had an opportunity to bring her case to trial. Here, I am thinking of the Strauss-Kahn case and how the woman who alleged was accused of being a former prostitute, a detail that should not matter. This type of reporting is normal and not an anomaly! Then there are those reporters, such as Jason McKinley of the New York Times who wrote Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town who, in my opinion, are biased and uninformed. This is not to say that these reporters are being intentionally biased, but because of the ways that gender-based violence is normalized in our society, and because victim-blaming is the norm, many of these stories produce these views.

This was the most challenging and saddest aspect of doing the Toolkit. For our bad  reporting section, I had hundreds of examples. When it came to finding good reporting, I struggled to find articles that properly contextualized the event. I think this evidences that there is a major problem in the way that media reports on issues of rape and sexual violence.

The Chicago Taskforce developed a media toolkit, Reporting on Rape and Sexual Violence: A Media Toolkit for Local and National Journalists To Better Media Coverage.

What is your advice for how people and communities can hold the media accountable?

One of the ways people can hold news bureaus accountable is by actually writing to the bureaus and staff to let them know that we are not satisfied with their reporting. Advocates, constituents, public officials, organizers, readers, are not writing to reporters and editors calling attention to these biases.

We also have to take into consideration that the majority of the people who we hear from are white heterosexual men. The OpEd Project, which I am also a part of, trains people from underrepresented voices – mainly women – to pitch op-eds. Many people do not know that they have these options. The power of people’s voices count and hold great persuasion. We need to ensure that we hear from diverse voices in the media so that the quality of reporting and the range of ideas are higher.

To return to a previous example. When McKinley published Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town – an article about an 11-year-old girl who was gang raped by a group of young men between the ages 18-27 – one of the things that he chose to include in his article were quotes based on superfluous details. One such quote was, “They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s.” The majority of the quotes he obtained presented a very biased viewpoint, one that led to his framing a very biased story. When the article published, there was great outrage. Many wrote the New York TImes editor, an action that led to their releasing a letter acknowledging their biased reporting. This also led to their revising the story.  This is a powerful example of how people can take action on the ways in which rape and sexual violence get reported. One added benefit of this outcry is that many of those upset with this article took to their blogs, radio, and different opinion pages to express their own perspectives on how reporting should happen. It is imperative that we report in a fair and balanced manner because these stories do influence and have real life consequences. If the majority of articles place blame on victims, many will choose not to report rape because they may fear being smeared by the media.

One other way in which we can help better media coverage is to better engage journalists. We can’t limit ourselves to identifying gaps and flaws in reporting. We need to take action and align ourselves with those who play a pivotal role in how society gets its news. Last year, I organized an event that featured advocates and reporters. We heard from reporters that discussed how they investigate sensitive stories, and how they engage survivors of violence in respectable ways.

For those of us who do anti-violence work, we have to know that we have the authority to speak on these issues, and that we need to weigh in on public debates and in public forums.

Claudia Garcia-Rojas is an expert consultant on issues of gender, violence, media, and culture. She has thirteen years of professional experience working as an anti-racism and anti-gender-based violence speaker, activist, journalist, organizer, and scholar. In 2012, she was named a Fulbright Fellowship alternate, and this year she will start graduate study at Northwestern University. You can follow her on twitter at: @claudiastellar

***

Views: 543

Comment

You need to be a member of Peace and Collaborative Development Network to add comments!

Join Peace and Collaborative Development Network

Comment by Maheswar Satpathy on March 28, 2013 at 9:16am

Seems like a great tool. Thanks for sharing...cheers

Sponsored Link

Please Pay What You Can to Support PCDN

Please consider Paying What You Can to help PCDN grow. We encourage you to consider any amount from $1 and up. Read the SUPPORT page prior to making a payment to see PCDN's impact and how your payment will help.

Sponsored Link

Translate This Page



PCDN NETWORK TWITTER FEED

PCDN Guidelines and Share Pages

By using this site you're agreeing to the terms of use as outlined in the community guidelines (in particular PCDN is an open network indexed by Google and users should review the privacy options). Please note individual requests for funding or jobs are NOT permitted on the network.

Click BELOW to share site resources Bookmark and Share
or Share on LINKEDIN


FOLLOW PCDN on TWITTER, FACEBOOK or GOOGLE+

Google+

 

© 2014   Created by Craig Zelizer.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service