Sexual abuse is not easily discussed, and the public, as a result, generally has little understanding about predator characteristics and how to protect children from abuse – or deal with it after it occurs.
In the African American community, Robin Stone points to a number of reasons why sexual abuse often isn’t reported, including a sense of embarrassment or shame, fear of the abuser or the potential loss of income if the abuser is the family breadwinner. Stone says there are sometimes cultural factors at play, like a "circling of the wagons" to protect the family from outsiders. For some, there is a distrust of government institutions and authority figures, and a hesitance about turning a relative into the criminal justice system.
Dube’s story met initial resistance from some of her colleagues who pointed out that sexual abuse in Orthodox communities had been covered before. [In fact, The Jewish Week won a Casey Medal in 2000 for “Stolen Innocence,” a story about a charismatic rabbi accused of molesting scores of teens he was believed to be mentoring.] But Dube felt that though it had been covered before, the problem remained, and deserved closer examination. The story received a huge response – including from those in the ultra-Orthodox community. While the feedback was mixed, it proved the story reached its intended audience.
The challenges for a journalist in covering a sex abuse story are two-fold: Finding victims willing to talk and finding an audience ready to listen.
Kristen Lombardi says that telling the stories of institutional cover-up of abuse can be a difficult thing, but she believes that most victims would say that by talking openly about the abuse, they helped make things better, by spurring reform and giving other victims a voice. Tara Mckelvey adds that while the impact of a story is mostly hard to measure, the goal is getting the issue on the public radar and ultimately changing policy.
These stories, she explains, are riveting, heartbreaking and filled with human drama – and they reveal oppression that most would never know about. Going beyond the daily headlines to report on child sexual abuse may be one of the hardest stories a reporter covers. It’s a complex subject, and intense. But a comprehensive look at child sexual abuse cases can empower victims who may believe they have no voice. And you can boost the impact by addressing politics and policy while telling a much bigger story.
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