Dissecting coverage of sexual assault

By Jonathan Black

Sexual violence on campus is not going unnoticed by university press. It’s one of the most discussed and highlighted topics of they past couple years — since The Daily Tar Heel published its famous “Rape is a violent crime” front page editorial.

So it was no surprise that one of the keynotes at this year’s convention was a panel discussion about covering sexual assault, led by Erica Perel, adviser for The Daily Tar Heel, called ““Campus Journalists Can Help Stop Campus Rape.” Obviously, this is a very important topic and each of the panelist brought their own form of logic or pathos to make the discussion interesting.

The panel was made up of George Joseph, a Columbia University student and writer at Jacobin Magazine; Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, co-founder of No Red Tape and a student at Columbia; and Sara Gregory, investigative reporting fellow at the Student Press Law Center.

One of the biggest takeaways is a reporter must be careful in not crossing boundaries. They need to have a frank discussion with the survivor in which they the reporter learns what is and is not appropriate and how often they can contact the survivor.

“There’s something about having a reporter call you four times that can remind of you of someone stalking you,” Gregory said.

I stand at a weird place with sexual assault coverage. It’s done a lot of good at the world, but I also worry about people trying to take advantage of it. Impactful, emotional stories about sexual assault can make the rounds and get a lot of reads. But at what cost to the survivor?

I’ve had a lot of discussions with fellow editors about the topic, and I worry that someone will go finding a story on sexual assault for all the wrong reasons. It’s easy to get carried anyway. Remember to take a step back and make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, and it’s not going to cause anymore harm to the survivor.


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