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Calling on the Media for Accurate, Sensitive Reporting

Since the news broke November 5 that former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was charged in the alleged sexual assault of eight boys, news organizations have published or broadcast tens of thousands of stories about the situation.
But how many of these stories have used honest, straightforward language to explain child sexual abuse for what it is: premeditated violence. How many of the stories have acknowledged the magnitude of the trauma these victims have endured? How many have applauded their bravery for coming forward?
Not enough.
At PCAR, we encourage the media to publish fair, accurate stories that do not lose sight of the alleged crimes, the impact the alleged abuse and cover-up has had on its victims, and the important role that each of us plays in keeping our communities safe from child sexual abuse.
The media plays an enormous role in how this information reaches the public. We implore the media to use appropriate language and content that factually reports — and never sensationalizes — this information.
How can the media ensure that it is effectively covering child sexual abuse stories? For starters, it must depict child sexual abuse as the crime that violates a child’s rights and has a lasting impact on the victim, emotionally and physically. The media has a responsibility never to minimize the seriousness of sexual violence and its effects on victims and their families.
As any reporter who has covered child sexual abuse cases will tell you, it is challenging to find the right balance between relaying details that explain the situation and relaying those that are too intimate or personal for the victim.
Fair news stories are ones that reflect the voices of both the victim and the perpetrator, treat the victim with respect and acknowledge the seriousness of the trauma the victim has endured. Additionally, the stories, whenever possible, provide information that portrays the broader issue of sexual assault, rather than just the circumstances surrounding the case being covered.
At the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, a program of the highly esteemed Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, journalists covering traumatic situations are encouraged to ask themselves if their story:
·      Informs readers about the ways individuals react to and cope with emotional trauma and the process of recovery?
·      Avoids sensationalism, melodrama, and portrayal of victims as tragic or pathetic?
·      Emphasizes the victims’ experience rather than the perpetrators’?
As individuals, communities and as a society, we will benefit from holding media outlets to these high standards. As this Penn State story unfolds, PCAR calls on the media to treat these victims’ stories with the utmost care and respect and to broaden people’s understanding of child sexual abuse with fair and accurate reporting.
As adults, we can work together to create social change and build a culture that protects children everywhere.
What Individuals Can Do
As individuals, there are things we can do to hold the media accountable for accurate reporting of sexual violence. If you see or read a story about sexual violence that is unbalanced or unfair:
·         Write a Letter to the Editor calling people’s attention to the inaccuracies in the story,
·         Call the editor or reporter to explain your concerns,
·         Post a comment on the media outlet’s Facebook page, or use another form of social media to call attention to the mistakes.
Taking a stand and correcting misinformation can play an important role in changing the culture surrounding child sexual abuse.