Punishing perpetrators of sexual assault: who is responsible and how should it be done?

This article by the Huffington Post covered sexual assault on college campus with an interesting angle. While rates of reporting sexual assault remain very low, and guilty verdicts for sexual assault cases remain very low, this article focused on the fact that among the small group of assaulters who actually get found responsible by the university, few of them are expelled. I thought the article did several things very well. The lede was engaging, and the first few sentences framed the story clearly. I also thought the presentation of data was visual and informative. However, there were a few noteworthy things that could be discussed:

  1. Do you think the story was lacking due to the absence of characters and anecdotes? Could it have been improved with characters or did it succeed without?
  2. Oftentimes news stories identify problems and put those problems into context. How far do you think a news story should go in terms of implications? For example, this article raised the question of who should punish students found guilty of sexual assault and how should they be punished. Should an article provide recommendations to solve the problem or leave it open-ended? How far, in terms of implications and possible solutions, does the role of a journalist reach in writing about societal problems?
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About clarehudock

Student at the University of Michigan Aspiring public health innovator Public policy and economics

8 Responses to “Punishing perpetrators of sexual assault: who is responsible and how should it be done?”

  1. I agree that the lede was very engaging! With regards to the articles effectiveness without characters and anecdotes: I do believe that it was effective without them. The article seemed to be a primarily data driven story. There have been a fair amount of pieces written about sexual assault victims, and I think those are important too; but, I also appreciated a very “objective”, number based approach to the issue. The data itself was impressive. The Huffington Post did a good job collecting it, and I really appreciated the interactive graphs.

    That being said, there were points in the article where it would have been more effective if the author had brought in an outside voice. One such place was when the author writes “Meanwhile, dozens of college administrators, attorneys, experts and consultants agree: Someone who rapes another student shouldn’t get to stick around campus.” This statement remained unsupported, and could have easily been back up with a quote from an expert.

    Lastly, I don’t think that speculation is the point of journalism. This article provides data for the reader, and it should then be the reader’s job to imagine solutions to the issue. I think that asking questions is okay, but once the writing begins to be speculative it is no longer in the realm of journalism.

  2. I felt the lede was very engaging too! Although I disagree with Jacob W. that the piece functioned well without characters. The data discussed in this piece has a fundamental human element. Between the survivors, the accused, those found guilty, and the administrators, there are too many possibilities for characters to not do any. I think this lacking of characters becomes most apparent for the kicker (or lack thereof). The article just kind of trails off. It doesn’t have a human voice or authority to end on. I actually had trouble finding exactly where it ended!

    Regarding the second question, I felt the article could have explored solutions in an unbiased way. It could have had different experts present what they think is the solution and the article could have stated pros and cons for both. Simply talking about them does not mean the journalist is advocating for it.

  3. After reading the article, I really think the piece would have benefitted with the addition of characters that were affected by campus rape, whether it be a mother, a victim, or even just a student at the school with a steak in the issue. It just needed more a pathos element to really be impactful in my opinion. I do not, however, believe that the article needs to pose suggestions to solve the problem. I suppose if someone they interview poses a suggestion, that works. In general I think it is mainly the journalist’s job to get the public to recognize and understand an issue and to prompt questions. Possible a follow-up article could be written when a solution is found, but I feel that is the extent of a journalist’s responsibility.

  4. I also found the lede to be engaging, and I liked the use of infographics to make some of the statistics more clear. I think, however, that the rest of the article was a bit vague, due in part to the fact that there weren’t many anecdotal sections. There were links to stories outlining a few of the specific schools’ situations, and I will say I clicked through to the one about Michigan State, as I didn’t know what they were talking about. So in some ways, those anecdotes are there in a link format, but I did find clicking away to find out what had happened at Michigan State was distracting. I had a hard time coming back to the HuffPost article afterwards, and so I think focusing on a couple of really strong anecdotal stories would have made this article stronger and more engaging.
    I also found the ASCA comments a little vague, as aside from their title given in the article, I know nothing about who they are and what they do. In a way, the article seemed to be condemning ASCA and the fact that many rapists aren’t being expelled, but at the same time HuffPost didn’t seem to have a solid viewpoint (which is understandable, given that this is supposed to be an objective piece of journalistic writing). I think that because journalism is supposed to be objective, that means they should present the problem at hand from multiple viewpoints, perhaps with the addition of the solutions the people affected are coming up with. I don’t think they should make a judgement call on what should or should not be done, as I think a journalist’s job is to present the facts.

  5. I definitely agree that the article was quite informative and eye-opening. The immense objective data presented in the piece really shines new light on this issue. The (understandable) sensitivity surrounding discussion of how to handle sexual assault makes it very difficult for a journalist to cover the topic. One wrong move could ruin the reporter’s life.

    However, I agree with Julia that anecdotes in addition to the data could’ve improved the article. Part of what makes great reporting is a “human interest” aspect of a piece and personal stories do exactly that. I think the “human interest” is part of the appeal of last year’s UVA article in Rolling Stone so captivating to so many people even though the story ultimately was found to be full of holes.

  6. In response to the first question, I thought that the article was written in a way that did not necessitate character involvement. While the article may have been more engaging had it included a case study, I think this would have taken away from the intent of the article to inform us about the lack of expulsion for cases of sexual assault across the board. It would have been distracting for us to focus on the actions of one student and one university considering that the statistics presented were representative of 50 colleges and universities.

    Additionally, I think the article could have benefited from a discussion of possible solutions advocated by different entities within universities. I don’t think it is the journalist’s responsibility to provide us with a specific recommendation, as this would make the piece more of an editorial and less creditable as unbiased. However, I think this article did leave us with a lot of unanswered questions on how student perpetrators of sexual assault can be impacted. It would be nice to know what steps are being taken by different groups to address this issue in addition to simply the opinions of these groups (ASCA, National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, etc).

  7. I also agree with the above comments that the article should have included quotes from people affected by campus assault. It is always important to provide examples, and the story of a sexual assault survivor affected by this issue would have added emotional interest. The author could have gone back to the survivor’s story at the end to improve the kicker.
    Another issue I noticed with the article was a lack of context. There should have been rates of expulsion for breaking other university rules on violence, such as for students found guilty of physical assault, to compare to sexual assault. The article would have also been more clear if it had defined the crimes involved in sexual assault. This is a broad term that spans from harassment to rape.
    After reading the article, I was left wondering how law enforcement relates to this topic. Are there any legal repercussions for students found guilty of rape by the school, since rape is a felony? Do universities work with the police with sexual assault cases?

  8. I agree that the lede was very engaging, but I think the rest of the story was a huge let down. It was more of a listing of data than a story, because a story needs characters. And the most surprising part is that their are tons of real-life characters being affected by sexual assault; the perpetrators, the survivors, the school administrators. I don’t understand why Huffington Post did not include characters which bring a story to life.

    I think it is a very difficult question around how far a journalist should go in suggesting solutions to the issues they cover. The role of a journalist is to report stories, not to get involved in them. But also, it is very difficult to stay out of a story once you begin talking to sources. I think it is hard to stay unbiased when reporting a story, because it is human nature to have an opinion. Although, this article did a good job of seeming like a machine produced it.

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