Letter to the Editor:
After reading several of the articles published over the last couple of weeks regarding sexual assaults that have occurred in our community, I felt compelled to write you this letter. I am utterly disgusted about how these articles are being written. They have no regard for the victim/survivor of the assault. One story, in particular, has provoked me to write this. The article titled “Warsaw Man Arrested for Sexual Misconduct with a Minor” published on your site on June 28.
This article describes, in detail, the assaults a child victim suffered at the hands of her adult perpetrator. I’m appalled that this victim is a minor, and there appears to have been absolutely no thought by your reporter on how this article would affect her. Furthermore, the language used in the article is nothing short of victim-blaming.
As a sexual assault victim advocate in our community, I advocate for change! A systemic paradigm shift is needed if we are to change the rape culture currently present in our society. Articles written with language such as “perform oral sex and masturbation” and “she was required to perform the sexual acts to get her phone back” point to the child as the perpetrator. The child in this article is portrayed as a person who made the decision to engage in sexual acts with a 43-year-old man just to “get her phone back.”
The implications of such statements will last a lifetime for the victim. Can you imagine for just a moment what this child’s peers will do with this information? Have you considered how cruel other children and adults can be? This child’s suffering is further compounded by the reactions of those around her to this assault. These reactions re-victimize her every time someone inappropriately brings up the details of her assault.
The assault itself brings me to another frustration I have with this article. Let’s call sexual assault and rape exactly what it is – sexual assault and rape. A child does not have the ability to consent to engage in sexual acts willingly with an adult. This adult male forced this child into this situation. He manipulated and taunted her to a point that she felt so scared, confused, unsure, etc. that she felt her only option was to give him what he was demanding. This child was assaulted. This child was raped. This child was hurt. Let’s not sugar-coat the truth.
Let’s begin discussion about how we, as a community, can begin making a difference in the lives of those who have suffered sexual assault and are now dealing with its life-long effects.
Let’s discuss the impact of sexual trauma on a child victim of sexual assault. Traumatic impacts of this type of behavior last a lifetime – without the story being blasted, in detail, across news outlets in this small community. Trauma is further compounded when inappropriate details are released regarding a victim. Everyone has an opinion. As a journalist, I am sure that you understand this concept. The ability and probability for family, friends, and the public, to further traumatize a child is enormous. We have a responsibility to protect them.
As one of our local news outlet, YOU have tremendous power to influence the response of our entire community. What you write, and HOW you write it, is important. You can educate your reporters regarding integrity and ethics about reporting crimes in such a way that you minimize re-traumatizing the victims with lurid details about the assault. I urge you to listen to what I am saying and to do something with it.
In closing, I have included a quote that I found on the Chicago Taskforce Media Toolkit’s website. I hope you understand the message I am trying to send with this letter. The message is summarized in this quote below.
“Whether we are direct service advocates or legal representatives or reporters, when we sign on to report on rape and sexual violence issues, we also become signatories to the underlying ethical sensitivities that help us honor accuracy in telling these real-life stories” (Chicago Taskforce Media Toolkit, 2018).
There are many resources available to you, as journalists, to assist in utilizing language that is not damaging to the victim. If you would like to have further discussion or would like some resources on how to obtain more information about how media articles affect victims, please let me know. I would be happy to provide you with this information.
Sexual Assault Victim Advocate
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