Sexual Assault Awareness Month – 5 Questions to Ask Yourself About Media Coverage of Sexual Assault

The Clothesline Project, Ottawa 2012

The Clothesline Project, Ottawa 2012

May is Sexual Assault Awareness month, and although a month’s worth of advocacy and education won’t bring an end to rape culture, this is a useful time to reflect on how we can support sexual assault survivors and create lasting change in our communities. The rates of sexual assault are staggering; every day, 8 women are sexually assaulted in Ottawa alone, and only 1 will ever report it to the police. Media-makers have an important role to play, in shaping our understanding of sexual assault, and so do media consumers.

Here are 5 critical questions—useful for both media-makers and consumers—to keep in mind when thinking about media coverage of sexual assault. We based this list on a REPRESENT. Video Workshop created in partnership with WAM! Ottawa. If you have any feedback or questions to add to the list, feel free to tweet them @RepresentMEdia!

1) Is the story promoting any stereotypes or assumptions?
Does it use ethnicity, nationality, socio-economic status, sexual orientation or occupation to explain why the sexual assault occurred? Are certain types of people more likely to be blamed for the sexual assault that has been perpetrated against them than others?

2) Who are the experts and sources in the story?
Does the sexual assault survivor have a voice? How much do we hear from law enforcement and the survivor’s community (e.g. neighbours) vs. the survivor themself or experts on sexual assault?

3) Does the story make a connection between the sexual assault reported on and rape culture, more broadly?
Is the pervasiveness of sexual assault in our communities reflected in the media report?

4) Does the story trivialize the sexual assault through specific language (e.g. “had sex with” instead of “sexually assaulted”)?
How does the language used in the story shape the way we view the sexual assault survivor and perpetrator, as well as the severity of the sexual assault?

5) What course of action is suggested by the story?
Does it suggest individual, structural and systemic ways we can prevent sexual assault, or does it merely focus on the punishment received by the perpetrator?

Finally, check out Carleton University’s new PSA calling on men to end sexual assault:

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