18 June 2012

Moving the Media towards Prevention

By Cordelia Anderson and Joan Tabachnick, co-hosts, Ending Child Sexual Abuse (ECSA) Web Conference Series

The second Ms. Foundation for Women Web Conference featured the Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) and Frameworks Institute discussing their research about working with the media to end child sexual abuse. The messages of the two presentations intertwined eloquently, bringing fresh insights to media work.

First, Pamela Mejia described the BMSG research, pointing to the dramatic change in reporting after the Penn State tragedy. Pamela first offered an excellent summary of their two recent reports commissioned by the Ms. Foundation, Case by Case: News Coverage of Child Sexual Abuse and Breaking News: Early Coverage of Penn State. The research highlighted a shift in media reporting of Penn State towards institutional (rather than individual) responsibility. Pamela also discussed the important opportunity that advocates had in the days immediately following the arrest of Sandusky. BMSG recommendations included:
  • monitoring the media,
  • piggybacking on breaking news,
  • writing opinions,
  • developing relationships with journalists, and
  • being very intentional about the language used.
Moira O’Neil followed with an overview of the public perception research the Frameworks Institute has done with Prevent Child Abuse America and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Moira discussed findings from both studies and described their process of finding the right frame to change the public’s understanding of the child sexual abuse. Key pre-existing frames to overcome include:
  • the idea of the family bubble, which reinforces individual parents and child’s responsibilities to protect themselves from harm, and
  • the belief that the harm resulting from adverse childhood experiences is not all that bad and the sense that “what didn’t kill us makes us stronger.”
She noted that people tend to think our media messages are going into an open mind, but offered a helpful reminder that the mind is more like a swamp and it is easy to get stuck and hard to get through. She offered the following example: although most people know CSA is a problem perpetrated by those they know, when they get to solutions they revert to thinking about stranger danger. Finally, Moira echoed BMSG recommendations on the importance of focusing the media on the role of communities in prevention and the social causes of child sexual abuse rather than relegating the response to individual choices.

Our closing message: while the media is powerful, it can also be a powerful tool for solutions. We need to build a bigger choir of voices singing the stories of solutions, including stories of organizational and community change in the face of child sexual abuse.

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