Media Resources

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Resources for Covering Sexual Harassment, Abuse, and Assault in the News

Resource Packet for Journalists – Contains information discussed in the webinar, Covering Sexual Harassment, Abuse, and Rape in the News. Nine best practices for news coverage of sexual violence are summarized and include links to example stories and resources. The packet also includes a table of recommended words for describing sexual assault and fast facts on sexual violence with citations. Lastly, included is a list of experts in the field of sexual violence prevention and services who could serve as sources for journalists. Resource packet can be found here: Resource Packet for Covering Sexual Harassment Abuse and Assault in the News Training

Webinar Recording/Video:

Recommended Words

No words are neutral. Consider the associations and assumptions carried with the following words.

Instead of…

Use…

Because…

Sex scandal

Sexual assault, sexual abuse, rape, etc.

“Sex scandal” diminishes the crime and sensationalizes it. It removes the distinction between a normal, consensual act and violence/a potential crime.

Instead of…

Use…

Because…

Domestic Dispute

Intimate partner abuse, Intimate partner violence

“Domestic dispute” diminishes the crime, erases the violent nature of the conflict, and normalizes its occurrence. 

Sex or intercourse (as a euphemism for rape or sexual assault)

rape, sexual assault, etc.

This again blurs the line between what is a consensual sex act and what is a crime. “Intercourse” instead of “rape” prevents the public from fully understanding that the act was one of violence and not a mutually consensual act.

Nonconsensual sex

Sexual assault; sexual abuse; rape, etc.

By definition sex is consensual. If it’s not consensual, it is sexual assault or rape.

Underage women, Underage girls

Children, minors

The use of the word “women” falsely implies they are adults and consensual sex is possible. People the aged 0 to 18 are children and are under the age of consent for sex with adults. Therefore any sexual encounter with an adult is sexual assault. 

Perform oral sex

Forced oral and genital contact

The use of the word “performed” wrongly assumes that the victim is the primary actor and was not forced. When in doubt, consider if the public needs to know specifics about the assault in question.        

Fondle

Grope; unwanted sexual contact

Fondle conveys the idea that the perpetrated act is gentle, which may undermine a reader’s ability to see unwanted sexual contact as a harmful and potentially criminal activity.

Engaged in

Was forced to

The term “engaged in” assumes that the victim was an active participant, negating the fact that she/he was forced to participate.

Instead of…

Use…

Because…

Victim admits; Victim confesses

Victim reports; victim reveals

Both “admits” and “confesses” imply responsibility and shame on the part of the victim and does not hold the perpetrator responsible.

Accuser

Alleged victim; victim (if perpetrator convicted) or survivor

Referring to the victim as the “accuser” means they are no longer a victim of the alleged perpetrator’s attack. The victim becomes portrayed as the one doing something to the perpetrator. In other words, the victim is now the perpetrator of the accusation. The perpetrator is transformed from the alleged perpetrator of sexual violence to the actual victim of their accusation. Excessive use of the word “alleged” or “claimed” implies disbelief of the victim.

Affair

Abusive relationship, Intimate partner violence

Referring to a relationship with a power imbalance (such as a teacher/student or boss/employee) by using the word “affair” implies a consent on the part of both parties. Sometimes these relationships can start consensually, but become abusive when one party coerces the other using their unequal position of power. Other times the whole relationship was coercive because the disadvantaged person felt pressured into the relationship. The term “affair” diminishes the crime and sensationalizes the relationship as taboo.

Prostitution

Human sex trafficking, survival sex work, sex work

Referring to someone who was forced into sex work as a “prostitute” implies choice and agency on the part of the victim. Some people do choose to engage in sex work in order to survive homelessness. Job discrimination, housing discrimination, and other forms of violence can create life circumstances where a person engages in survival sex work. Lastly, some people do work in the sex industry consensually, and often refer to their work as sex work, not prostitution.

Child prostitution

Child sex trafficking

By definition a child cannot consent to sex, so they cannot be a professional sex worker. Using the word “prostitution” implies the victim has a profession as a sex worker. Any child forced to have sex is being exploited by adults.

Child pornography

Child sex abuse imagery

Pornography with children is a documentation of sexual abuse. Referring to these abuse images as pornography, hides the crime and focuses on the utility of the images to perpetrators. Referring to these images as abuse centers the survivors’ experiences rather than the perpetrator.  

Many of these terms were reprinted with permission from Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault.