National media heavily featured male reporters and sources in its coverage of campus sexual assault in 2015, although the majority of sexual assault victims are women, according to a new report released by the Women’s Media Center on Wednesday.
The Women’s Media Center commissioned the analytics research firm Novetta to evaluate 940 articles related to sexual assault from the top 12 highest-circulation newspapers and wire services in the United States, including the Associated Press, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Reuters. The study refers to male and female writers, and does not break down coverage by transgender, intersex, or gender-nonconforming writers.
In their analysis of stories published between September 1, 2014, and August 31, 2015, researchers found stark gender disparities in both writing and sourcing related to sexual assault. Men wrote 55 percent of the sexual assault stories, compared to 31 percent written by women. Fourteen percent had no byline. Forty-eight percent of the quotes in the stories were from men, while 32 percent were from women.
The researchers suggested that the gender of the writer affected how the stories were reported and written. Women journalists wrote about the alleged victim more often than male journalists, and addressed the impact that sexual assault had on that person, according to the study.
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The San Jose Mercury News proved to be the exception, with 71 percent of its 35 stories on sexual assault written by women. Along with the Washington Post and the Denver Post, the Mercury News used more quotes from female sources than male sources in their coverage.
“We commissioned this research because of a critical need for greater nuance and sensitivity in reporting about women’s stories of rape in print media,” Julie Burton, president of the Women’s Media Center, said in a statement.
Previous research has shown that the majority of rape and sexual assault victims in the United States are women.
Nearly 20 percent of U.S. women reported being raped during their lifetimes in 2011, compared to 1.7 percent of men, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. And on college campuses, 25 percent of women said they experienced “unwanted sexual incidents” while there, compared to 7 percent of men.
The gender gap was even wider in sports stories that referenced sexual assault. Men wrote 64 percent of those stories, and 75 percent of the quotes were from male sources.
“Anyone relying on sports coverage to keep up with stories involving athletes and sexualized violence are receiving a seriously skewed kind of coverage, one that clearly prioritizes the voices of men,” the Women’s Media Center wrote in the report.
It went on to recommend that newsrooms across the country tackle the disparity by hiring more women and by striving to achieve gender parity when assigning stories and finding sources.
Women write 37 percent of total media stories, according to another report by the Women’s Media Center, though they write a majority or near majority of stories related to education, health, and lifestyle.
“Our research shows that print media have a great deal of work ahead, in all regards,” Burton said.