55% Of Stories On Sexual Assault Are Written By Men — & That's A Problem

Photographed by Ashley Batz.
Women may be the primary targets of sexual assault, but more often than not, they're not the ones telling their stories: A new report suggests that 55% of news articles on sexual assault in 2014 were written by men, and 31% were written by women (14% didn't have bylines).

The report comes out of the Women's Media Center (which counts Gloria Steinem as a co-founder) and it sheds light on some problematic trends in the coverage of sexual assault on high school and college campuses. After looking at 940 articles from 12 print outlets — The Associated Press, Chicago Sun-Times, The Denver Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, New York Post, The New York Times, Reuters, San Jose Mercury News, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post — the WMC found that men were less likely to interview alleged victims or write about the impact of alleged attacks on those victims (33% of male journalists did this vs. 40% of female journalists). In fact, men were slightly more likely than women to report on the impact the attack had on the alleged perpetrator.

Only 28% of the quotes used in stories by male journalists were from women, while 54% percent were from other men (18% were from organizations or sources without listed genders). Female journalists, on the other hand, quoted other women in their stories 42% of the time; they quoted men 38% of the time.

Only 28% of the quotes used in sexual assault stories by men were from women.

Considering that 20% of women and 2% of men report being raped in their lifetimes, these disparities represent a pretty glaring bias in sexual assault coverage. If male journalists are covering most of the stories about sexual assault and are failing to give the primary victims prominent voices, it's no wonder that the public discussion of rape is rife with victim-blaming tropes — like the idea that women "deserve" to be assaulted because of what they wore, how much they had to drink, or because they had consensual sex with their attacker before the assault.

Of course, numbers don't always paint the full picture, and this report doesn't suggest that all male journalists are coming from a misogynistic perspective; there are plenty of men writing sensitive, informative articles about rape. And FWIW, these findings aren't out of sync with the proportion of female bylines on all news stories: Previous WMC research suggests that women make up a mere 37% of bylines. (Also problematic? Yes.)

We've only recently begun to openly discuss rape as a society. If women aren't given platforms to discuss the very real dangers they face on a daily basis, it will be harder to get survivors, male or female, to come forward after attacks — and it will make it easier for attacks to occur in the first place.

As Julie Burton, president of the WMC, puts it in the report: "This study is a chance for the U.S. media to take a hard look at where it stands on this kind of critical work and figure out how it plans to move forward in a more equitable way. Women who bravely come forward to report rape deserve media that represents their voices in equal measure to those of men."

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