Reporting on sexual assault

Reporting on sexual assault

Media backgrounder— February 2012
Reporting on sexual assault

Reporting on Sexual Assault was developed by the  former Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault as a “backgrounder” for journalists and other media professionals, including bloggers and other producers of online forms of media.

It is intended to provide information about some of the key issues in reporting sexual assault, including:

  • language and details;
  • placing the news story in context; and
  • information about support.

This resource also provides further information to support the accurate and ethical reporting of sexual assault including:

  • guidelines for interviewing victim/survivors of sexual assault;
  • online and interactive media;
  • background information on sexual assault; and
  • current guidelines and other resources.

Sexual assault is highly prevalent in our society.

Sexual assault is one of the most under-reported offences. Many victim/survivors do not speak out about it because of fear and shame, among other reasons.

Victim blaming attitudes are still prevalent, and there is a lack of community understanding about the circumstances in which sexual assault occurs, and the impact it has on victim/survivors.

Research has found that a significant portion of the community holds attitudes and beliefs that justify, excuse, minimise or hide physical or sexual violence. Community attitudes that support violence may influence:

  • the behavior of perpetrators of sexual assault - by helping to promote, excuse or ignore problematic behaviour;
  • community responses to people who have been sexually assaulted, including whether their disclosure will be believed; and
  • whether or not victim/survivors recognise their experience as being sexual assault (e.g., because they think that “real” sexual assault is committed by a stranger), and whether they tell people about their experience, because they fear receiving a negative response. 

The framing of a news report can either:

  • confirm the acceptance of violence and misconceptions; or
  • foster supportive attitudes towards victims/survivors.

Changing social attitudes to sexual violence is a key priority of prevention programs. Responsible and ethical media reporting of sexual assault can support this goal.

Publication details

Media backgrounder
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, February 2012.

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