240961 Case by Case: News coverage of child sexual abuse, 2007-2009

Tuesday, November 1, 2011: 8:30 AM

Pamela Mejia, MPH, MS , Research Team, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Berkeley, CA
Andrew Cheyne, CPhil , Berkeley Media Studies Group, Berkeley, CA
Lori Dorfman, DrPH , Berkeley Media Studies Group, Berkeley, CA
Background. Child sexual abuse is endemic in the United States yet remains largely hidden from view. News coverage can put child sexual abuse prevention on the public's and policymakers' agenda. But depending on how it is portrayed, news coverage can either help or hinder advocates seeking to prevent child sexual abuse. Methods. We analyzed a representative sample of U.S. newspaper coverage from 2007 – 2009 for how it portrayed child sexual abuse (k > .7). Findings. Child sexual abuse appears regularly in news coverage, but in less than one story a week with few in depth. Most (70%) articles focus child sexual abuse perpetrated by family members, teachers, or other adults familiar with the child; “stranger danger” was not the dominant theme. However, news coverage portrays child sexual abuse almost exclusively in terms of the criminal justice system (73%). The news gives little attention to the social conditions that produce child sexual abuse or to prevention. Policy discussion is limited to criminal justice approaches (82%), while options that might prevent future abuse are largely absent (18%). Conclusion. If child sexual abuse is seen only as a series of crimes for which criminal justice is the most appropriate response, prevention will not be visible. Advocates can put child sexual abuse prevention on the policy agenda by creating news outside the criminal justice realm. Journalists can improve news coverage by including the context of child sexual abuse, consequences for victims, perpetrators, and communities, and by telling stories that dig into prevention policy.

Learning Areas:
Advocacy for health and health education
Communication and informatics
Public health or related public policy
Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
Describe trends in news media coverage of child sexual assault. Discuss improvements the the news' coverage of child sexual assault. Identify deficiencies and / or improvements in future news coverage of child sexual assault.

Keywords: Children and Adolescents, Sexual Assault

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I was a coder and a lead author on the study.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.