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Report smarter on social justice coverage

October 14, 2014 Leave a comment

Being a slut isn’t a bad thing.

It’s a word used for power and control, according to the organizers of Slutwalk. But they’re trying to change that.

Slutwalk is a group of volunteers promoting not blaming victims of sexual violence.

Slutwalk is an event where a group of volunteers make signs to protest blaming victims of sexual violence.

 

Lincoln, Nebraska, held its annual protest in front of the Nebraska State Capitol on Saturday to promote awareness of how people blame victims when they should blame perpetrators of sexual violence. Shayla Swift, an organizer for the event, said that people are looking at the wrong side of sexual and domestic violence.

“Sexual violence happens in our safe spaces regardless of what we’re wearing,” she said. “It happens in our safe places with people that we know.”

Slutwalk is not an organization. It is volunteers raising awareness against sexual violence and getting the word out that victims aren’t responsible regardless of whether they have been drinking or what kind of clothing they wear.

A key part of awareness is media coverage. How should social justice issues be covered? … Breast cancer awareness, for example, is something else affecting women. However, it gets much more coverage than victims of sexual violence.

“Breast cancer is a really easy thing to talk about because people really like breasts,” Swift said. “In all honesty, that’s a really easy cancer for people to raise money for.”

Breast cancer awareness and victims of sexual violence might be like comparing apples to oranges, but covering these events requires something from all reporters: compassion.

Another organizer of Slutwalk, Claire Baweja, enjoys press coverage but reminds reporters that it’s not just another feature story.

“They always come to us saying ‘hey do you know anyone that’s affected?’ It’s not something everyone wants to openly talk about,” Baweja said. “Some reporters … need to be aware of the kinds of questions they’re asking.”

While spreading awareness is the main goal for Slutwalk Lincoln, it’s important to do so correctly. Swift’s dad is a retired reporter, so she understands media coverage from both sides.

Swift said sometimes reporters try to sensationalize a story to make it the most emotional or captivating. It’s often an approach to just fill a person into the story. “If you’re a reporter and get on the scene knowing what the story is about you’ll lose the story every time,” she said.

The Institute for Justice and Journalism’s website has many tools for covering tough issues. Three of the tools media have used to better cover social justice include creation of a database, devising ways to work together and creating tutorials on reporting techniques.

Here are tips from Swift on reporting of sensitive and social issues:

  1. It’s better to ask the organizer if they know of anyone who was impacted who is willing to talk, rather than going up to possible victims directly.
  2. Be careful of word usage. ‘Trauma survivors’ is better than ‘rape victims.’
  3. Make the subject feel more comfortable. Ask questions about why they’re doing an event and whom they’re doing it for, instead of their life’s story.

Being a journalist is about being a voice for the people and reporting or editing impactful stories. Knowing how to handle sensitive, social justice issues is important.

Swift said about reporters talking to survivors, “I wasn’t sure that they were going to be able to convey that they really cared what happened to them…”

_By Nicole Rauner
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