Media coverage of sexual assault rose by more than 30 percent between May 2017 and August 2018, according to a recently released study of the content of more than 15,000 news articles conducted by the Women’s Media Center.
College papers, like the University of Southern California Daily Trojan and its reporting on former USC health center OB-GYN George Tyndall, who is accused by more than 250 women of sexual assault, have also markedly increased their coverage of sexual misconduct and related issues, often calling out those related to or employed by the university.
The Panther is no exception. Since the fall semester began, our staff has published nine issues. In seven of these issues, including this one, we’ve published stories about sexual assault, abuse, harassment and misconduct, from a Chapman alumna and her boyfriend who are accused of raping at least seven women, to a student walkout that drew 300 people to protest Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, to an art student who accused a Chapman-commissioned muralist of sexual harassment.
We are an all-female staff. Each week, we discuss in our meetings what the topic of our editorial should be, and about fifty percent of the time so far, we’ve chosen to write about topics related to sexual assault, abuse or harassment.
It’s never easy writing about these issues, but we prioritize it because we think it’s crucial to give a voice to those who come forward with credible allegations. The difficulties that come with writing about these topics are nothing compared to how hard it can be for survivors of sexual assault, abuse, harassment or misconduct to come forward.
The #MeToo movement has given survivors, activists and the media a unique platform to influence social change. As coverage of sexual misconduct has increased over the past year and a half, there has also been an increase in female journalists writing those stories. In October 2017, 52 percent of the bylines on stories about sexual assault went to women, according to the Women’s Media Center study.
Media coverage has moved away from solely focusing on individual perpetrators and moved toward identifying key trends and themes. More and more, we see stories that focus on broad societal issues like rape culture and victim-blaming to accentuate how widespread and pervasive this issue is, rather than treating each new allegation as an outlier or an anomaly.
But still, female survivors’ claims are often ignored, brushed aside or even discredited on a national scale. In late September, Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh resulted in a weeklong investigation where the FBI questioned only nine people and the president of the United States calling the allegations a “hoax” and “fabricated.” Clearly, we still have a long way to go before women coming forward with allegations are no longer interpreted as threats to power, whether perceived or actual, of those accused.
If political leaders aren’t going to listen to allegations of sexual assault or refuse to treat accusations with the gravity that they deserve, then it’s up to the rest of us to hold them responsible.
Part of the reason women are beginning to feel more comfortable and empowered to come forward is because extensive media coverage and social movements are helping to destigmatize talking about sexual assault. But we can’t let the conversation die out – it’s too important, too extensive and too crucial to holding perpetrators accountable.
Reading about these stories in the news is not enough. It’s imperative that journalists continue to cover these issues, but it’s also vital that society continues to encourage women to stand up and be heard: Keep protesting. Keep contacting your representatives. Keep voting for people who will support survivors of sexual assault, rather than bring them down. Above all, keep listening to women.