New study shows media underreport child sexual abuse

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The new report Case by Case: News coverage of child sexual abuse released by the Berkeley Media Studies Group with support from the Ms. Foundation for Women, demonstrates that child sexual abuse is underreported and that media coverage does not describe the social context of child sexual abuse.

The report includes recommendations for journalists on ways to improve coverage of child sexual abuse as well as recommendations for advocates to help push for policies that will institute prevention. I recommend that all sexual violence advocates read this report and share it with members of the media in their community.

“The Case by Case report provides a valuable reality check for media and advocates,” Sandra Henriquez, executive director of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said. “Not only must we name child sexual abuse, but we also need to re-examine how to cover this sensitive topic in a responsible manner. It is essential that media reports go beyond covering individual cases
within the context of the criminal justice system, but that they include linkages between child sexual violence and potential solutions for preventing abuse before it occurs.”

Here are some examples of the troubling trends:

  • The language used to describe the abuse was often vague and inconsistent. Many articles contained ambiguous phrases, such as “sexual acts,” “inappropriate sexual behavior,” and “lewd and lascivious acts with a child.” Such imprecise language limits the public’s understanding of the issue and disguises its severity.
  • Nearly three quarters (73 percent) of stories were tied to a criminal justice news hook such as an arrest or trial that related to the aftermath of the abuse. This type of coverage puts the emphasis on the perpetrator instead of on the impact the abuse has on victims, their families, and the wider community. Such coverage also portrays child sexual abuse as an isolated event, ignoring its larger social context.
  • Prevention was rarely mentioned. Less than one-third (30 percent) of stories discussed solutions. Of those, the overwhelming majority focused on interventions to address abuse after the fact, while only a handful looked at preventing future abuse.

Click here to see the report.

David Lee

David S. Lee, MPH, is the Director of Prevention Services at the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) where he provides training and technical assistance on prevention. David manages the national project Prevention Connection, an online community of violence against women prevention practitioners, funders, researchers and activists. For over 29 years David has worked in efforts to end domestic violence and sexual assault.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • May Rico May 24, 2011, 3:27 PM

    Thank you for bringing this important report to our attention.

  • chisanga lukali May 10, 2012, 7:03 AM

    i would appreciate greatly if could enable me access the whole report

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