Working With The Media

Preventing the sexual abuse of children in our society must consider influence of the media, particularly news coverage, and how we can focus attention on prevention. Here we summarize some recent research that points to how news coverage of child sexual abuse needs to shift to improve the climate for prevention. 

News coverage matters

Everyone, including policy makers and opinion leaders, relies on news coverage to understand an issue or event. It is particularly influential around taboo issues that that we don’t talk about much in daily life, like child sexual abuse.

As the Berkeley Media Studies Group writes, "News coverage of child sexual abuse is doubly important because the abuse is often hidden from view. For many people -- including many policy makers -- news coverage will be the only way they learn about the issue."

Research and recommendations

Recent research by Berkeley Media Studies Group and Frameworks Institute shows that media coverage of child sexual abuse and sexual violence both focus overwhelmingly on individual stories from a criminal justice perspective. The authors are clear that prevention advocates and activists must try to influence media coverage of child sexual abuse in order to improve the overall climate for preventing sexual violence. The recommendations from this research was presented in a June 2012 webcast sponsored by the Ms. Foundation for Women, and summarized in a Foundation press release, 5 Tips for Media Covering Child Sexual Abuse.

The overall strategy for prevention activists and advocates is to urge media to go beyond reporting the details of individual cases – and even beyond individual behavior change and increased awareness. We must do more than demand coverage of how specific instances of abuse can be prevented. We also need to:

  • Talk about prevention in terms of building our collective responsibility for public safety for all children.
  • Highlight the broader changes in our society that will reduce sexual violence, like promoting positive, early childhood and sexual development.

Two important strategies for influencing the public dialogue through media is to invest in developing relationships with journalists, which also provides a chance to educate them on the topic. Advocates also can contribute to the opinion pages by writing letters to the editor, submitting commentary, and writing opinion pieces that focus on broader solutions.


Media coverage of child sexual abuse

Reporting on child sexual abuse