Indiana Daily Student

COLUMN: The problem with reporting on sexual assault

On Sunday, Columbia University released a 12,866-word investigative report into “A Rape on Campus” the controversial November 2014 Rolling Stone article about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia.

Rolling Stone commissioned the report itself when, upon publishing the story, the Washington Post uncovered details about the assault that suggested the incident couldn’t have possibly occurred the way ?Rolling Stone reported it.

The report indicates that, as Gawker reporter Gabrielle Bluestone puts it, “Rolling Stone screwed up in basically every way ?possible.”

The report speaks to just how difficult it is to report on sexual assault.

And with the growing prevalence of news around sexual assault on college campuses, it’s only getting more difficult.

Mainstream media coverage of sexual assault ?creates the misconception that it’s a fairly new ?occurrence.

But this is untrue.

Just because it’s only recently getting media attention doesn’t mean that it’s only recently begun ?happening. Media outlets are aware of this, and, rightly so, they’re giving it even more attention as a kind of reparations for having ignored it in the past.

Because of this, what happened with the Rolling Stone piece could begin to happen to even more stories about campus sexual assault.

With investigative reporting such as this, getting the story out quickly and efficiently can cause fact checking to suffer.

It’s also easy to gloss over some of the finer details of a situation to report on a broader truth.

Say, for example, you’re a reporter covering a story about an alleged sexual assault, much like Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the writer of the aforementioned Rolling Stone article.

When interviewing the victim, you must be extremely cautious to make sure to convey that one, you believe and trust him or her, and two, that you toe the line in a way as to not inadvertently cause the survivor to relive that trauma so badly that he or she decides to not give you the story ?at all.

It’s in these finer details where the reliving of the trauma can occur.

So a sympathetic reporter might avoid these seemingly unimportant details so as to not cause the victim to suffer any more.

The truth that the victim was assaulted is out there, so why worry about the details anyway?

It’s difficult to refute this logic. But a reporter as experienced as Erdely — she’d been contributing to Rolling Stone since 2008 — should have known better.

Still, I can’t blame Erdely that much for her ?mistakes. The same thing could’ve happened to any journalist. When you’re dealing with something as heavy as sexual assault, it’s easy for this ?to happen.

You want so badly to believe the victim and, in doing so, you overlook things that don’t make as much sense as they should.

It’s a shame that this happened like this because it rendered the entire story as false when it’s possible that wasn’t ?the case.

But this is only a minor setback.

It’s imperative that coverage of sexual assault in the media continues because only then will we be able to fight it.

Like what you're reading? Support independent, award-winning college journalism on this site. Donate here.

Powered by Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2022 Indiana Daily Student