Developing any story beyond the quick-hit breaking news formula takes time and perseverance – luxuries often not afforded in today’s frenetic newsroom. But building a sexual abuse story from a single case-based story into a measured, informative investigative project bears its own set of challenges.
Stories involving the sexual abuse of children are particularly difficult to report because the victims and their families often don’t want to come forward, records typically are sealed, the facts are profoundly disturbing, and editors and the public tend to shy away from the uncomfortable topic.
But telling these stories – and telling them with context – is critical: Consider that state child protection authorities substantiated more than 88,000 cases that involved child sexual abuse in 2006. And that isn’t close to the number of actual incidents, say many experts. In fact, researchers find it difficult to estimate how many children experience sexual abuse since only a fraction of cases – perhaps 30 percent or fewer – are ever reported to authorities or are classified by law enforcement.
Bringing to light the facts about child sexual abuse can change the way sexual abuse is perceived and treated, according to experts in the field. Knowledge is crucial to prevention.
So how do you overcome the inherent obstacles inside the newsroom and out to report a story that will inform, educate and encourage dialogue about child sexual abuse in your community?
The Journalism Center asked a group of journalists who have covered sexual abuse issues for tips and guidance on tackling this topic.