I am predicting that in addition to the Olympics, the story of the summer will be the trial of Jerry Sandusky.
The trial began in early June and is sure to keep the media talking for months to come. From the daily rehashing of testimony, the hours waiting for a verdict, and on to post verdict analysis, we will have an opportunity to hear from many “experts.”
Less Drama More Education
With all this coverage I issue a challenge to the media: Please seize this highly visible case of child molestation and use it as an opportunity to press forward with an agenda of prevention and education instead of simply sensationalizing the drama.
When this case came to light in the Fall of 2011, the media’s initial response appeared to be that of drama, highlighting the high-profile images of Joe Paterno and others at Penn State. Then, as the public outcry began to get louder, the media seemed to make a shift and became a bit more victim focused, offering up some level of education and information on child sexual abuse.
Alas, in these early weeks of the trail, it appears that the media has shifted back to drama. Did we not learn anything?
I ask the media to consider several points as they move forward with coverage:
Watch your language. The crimes of sexual and domestic violence appear to be two of the only crimes where the media chooses to label a crime victim as an “accuser.” Think about it — how many carjackings, hit and run accidents, muggings, etc. do you ever see the crime victim labeled an “accuser?” Let us remember, the State is the “accuser,” they are the ones bringing the charges, the victim is a witness to their own crime. The use of the term “accuser” is pure and simple victim blaming. It perpetuates a seed of doubt that this is all just one big lie. One big made up story. Research over and over again has demonstrated that sexual violence is one of the most under reported of all crimes and has the same false accusation rate as any other type of crime – less than 2%.
Consider your readers. There are readers and viewers who have either had a past experience of sexual victimization or are currently being victimized. Your coverage of this trial represents an opportunity to significantly assist a victim in reaching out for help. If you watch your language, offer up resources and provide accurate information.
Let’s talk prevention. This is a perfect time to focus on what our community can do collectively to work toward prevention – true prevention of sexual victimization. The media can help lead the way. Start a dialogue in the community about what can be done to stop victimization by encouraging discussion on the root causes of sexual abuse. This conversation has to move beyond simply reporting on programs that focus on risk reduction (teaching children to speak out) to examining the root causes of abuse such as misogyny and oppression.
It’s Up to All of Us
Finally to those of us watching/reading about this case this summer. Let’s all do our part to hold the media accountable and responsible for their coverage. When you see the media on target for the three points above, let them know you appreciate their positive coverage. When you observe them being off point, let them know they can do better.
We all have a responsibility to the see that appropriate coverage is given this case. Not only for the victims of Penn State but also for the thousands of children victimized each year and for the thousands of adults who have survived such terror in the past.
By Beth Morrison, HAVEN CEO, Courtesy of HAVEN.