Since the #MeToo movement gained traction last October, we’ve seen the media tackling sexual violence head-on in unprecedented ways. More and more, we’re reading and seeing survivors’ experiences being told in an authentic way – and it’s changing the conversation around sexual violence prevention, response, legislation, and more. This year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) theme, Embrace Your Voice, reminds us that the way we talk about sexual violence matters.

It was in that spirit that NJCASA embarked upon our Media Toolkit project in 2017. The toolkit offers statistics about sexual violence – in the state and beyond – and suggestions for using specific language when covering sexual violence.

At its best, media coverage of sexual violence paints clear, precise accounts of survivor experiences, draws on the knowledge of experts in the field, and folds in statistics and figures to illustrate the problem of the issue. We know that coverage like this can influence cultural shifts – like the mountain of #MeToo coverage, from statehouses to hospitals and everywhere in-between, all of which are influencing cultural change at a breakneck pace. In New Jersey, media coverage of serial perpetration committed by teachers and rampant abuse of women who are incarcerated were referenced in Trenton as lawmakers considered legislation. The way sexual violence is reported has immediate implications for survivors, in New Jersey and beyond.

Media coverage of sexual violence is at its best when it includes:

  • Professional expertise. In addition to NJCASA, New Jersey has 22 sexual violence service providers where reporters can find experts in sexual violence occurrence, prevention, trauma response, current legal requirements, and more. These folks are able to frame stories with unique expertise and on-the-ground knowledge about sexual violence in their counties. Looking to contact someone? NJCASA’s Media Toolkit lists organization spokespeople.
  • Facts and figures to frame the problem. Many stories will focus on Uniform Crime Report (UCR) statistics, which are a good starting point for portraying sexual violence. But UCR reports only encompass crimes reported to police – and we know sexual violence is one of the most vastly underreported In addition to UCR, journalists can use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), which provides “national and state victimization estimates for intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and stalking.” The latest NISVS report shows that over 1.8M survivors of sexual violence live in N.J
  • Links to local services. One of the most important changes we see in reporting on sexual violence is access to resources. NJCASA has noticed reporters are increasingly including information about how survivors (and their loved ones!) who read their pieces can access counseling services, hotlines, and more, both nationally and in New Jersey. Making these connections for readers is another critical way media coverage can influence positive outcomes for survivors.

As we continue embracing our voices throughout April (and beyond!), we can remain mindful of our language and contribute to the positive culture shifts that create supportive spaces for survivors and safer communities for all.

Marissa Marzano is the Communications Specialist at NJCASA. She believes media and journalists are key allies as we work towards eliminating violence.

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