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Holding Media Accountable on Sexual Assault Reporting

October 12, 2010

Over the past 10 years GRIID has worked with the Kent County Sexual Assault Prevention Action Team. Part of that work has consisted of documenting how local news media reports on sexual assault.

After conducting numerous studies on this issue the Action Team came up with a list of recommendations (see GRIID Media Activist Toolkit page 12) on how the news media can report on this issue in the future. In addition, GRIID participated in helping to create a reporting guide for journalists with the Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

These resources provide reporters with information and ideas on how best to report on this critical issue in our community. Despite these resources being available, some reporters still continue to engage in reporting that reflects a lack of understanding on these issues.

This was the case with a recent story that appeared in the Muskegon Chronicle and on MLive.com. The article includes a comment from a resident who lived near the bus stop, where a child was abducted and assaulted by a man. The comment was putting blame on the mother of the victim, which may be that person’s opinion, but is not relevant to the story and it promotes victim-blaming attitudes.

Members of the Kent County Sexual Assault Prevention Action Team make it a point to contact reporters when they see this kind of coverage as a way of encouraging reporters to think about these issues and to hold them accountable for the potential influence they have on public opinion. Here is the letter that one of the Action Team members sent to the reporter.

Dear Ms. Peters,

I am the coordinator of the Kent County Sexual Assault Prevention Action Team and would like to encourage you to stop promoting victim-blaming attitudes in news coverage of violence.

“Who would have a baby out there alone?” Jones said. “You don’t send a baby out there without her mom.”

This comment from your article regarding the child that was abducted and assaulted from a Muskegon bus stop is not at all relevant to the story, hurtful to the victim and her family, and supports the attitude of blaming the victim, or in this case the victim’s mother, rather than the man that assaulted the child. I do not believe that is was the intention of this article, however, that is the point that was made.

It will take our entire community to change victim blaming attitudes and as a journalist you could have a very powerful role to bring about this change. I have attached a resource that offers some suggestions for journalists that may be helpful to you.

Thank you for your consideration.

Best Regards,

Amy Endres Bercher

 

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