How to handle breaking news stories of sexual assault and harassment

Supporting yourself and others to be part of the conversation

In October, we welcomed Angles participants to their monthly, facilitated peer support group. Each meeting follows a different theme but are all focused on working with the media and how the media works. Participants are activists with lived experience and practitioners who are involved in this sector. This time, the question we asked was:

How can we handle breaking news stories and support each other to be part of the conversation?

Some of the thoughts and reflections from the group have been blogged anonymously here – hopefully they’re useful to other media contributors, and perhaps to journalists as well.

How do we handle breaking news?

The group discussed some of the ways they’ve dealt with stories of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the film industry and politics making the headlines each day.

  1. Accept that we can’t choose the timing when a story breaks.
  2. Be aware that one might think that related news stories are ‘safe’ to read, but they could be triggering or challenging too.
  3. Look for the growing counterpoint or alternative media being created in response.
  4. Ask yourself – is my energy best placed here? Could I do something else that will have an impact but won’t drain me?
  5. React publicly in a neutral way – raising awareness of the issues, but not leading to the possibility of being criticised or questioned online.
  6. See what the environment is like – read the articles created in response to judge what the public mood is like.
  7. Knowing when to ignore or not engage in the conversations going on.
  8. Look for your community that isn’t online – have a cup of tea with a friend, arrange a phone call, talk with family. Be aware that some conversations are held better offline.

Examples of good media coverage

We also talked about examples of good media coverage of these issues, which journalists often ask us. The group gave three specific examples of content they had appreciated, found insightful and more progressive then most.

  1. Ronan Farrow – whose article involved survivor’s voices as a central part of article in The New Yorker.
  2. Sarah Polley – who was talking directly from lived experience in her article for the New York Times.
  3. BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour 100Women episode which was valuable in terms of moving the conversation forward and focusing specifically on people’s experiences of sexual harassment on public transport and how it should be tackled.

What makes some media coverage bad? The group discussed areas they thought needed improving.

  • Articles can focus on the wrong angle in a story, for example why a victim didn’t report an incident sooner, instead of focusing on the fact that the report has taken place.
  • Articles that cover the issue without any survivor voices or without being led by those voices.
  • Click bait headlines that can be sensationalist or inaccurate.
  • Not putting the story into the wider context in society, in terms of commenting on the scale of the problem or outlining robust research.

Support yourself and others around you

The group discussed 7 ways in which they support themselves and might support each other going forward.

  1. If you’ve had enough of speaking out yourself, share the voices of other survivors.
  2. Look for ways to get involved in collective action, but know this can be both very small or large tasks.
  3. Know that it’s okay to disengage from the conversation and take a break.
  4. Know what you want to get out of an interview or media appearance, as well as the journalist’s agenda and aim.
  5. If you’re commenting on a breaking story or creating content, but don’t want to watch it back or check the comments – get a friend to look at it for you and offer constructive feedback.
  6. Research the environment, audience and types of conversations being had before a media engagement.
  7. Survivor to survivor humour and the importance of getting together to have a laugh.

 

For more resources and tips for activists engaging with the media visit our resources page.

For tips on covering these issues visit our blog for journalists.

If you’d like to hear more about the peer support group meetings and what’s involved, please contact us.