When it comes to sexual assault, there can be a lot of conflicting reads. On the one hand, journalists produce statistics that say that 22.5% of undergraduate women at the University of Michigan have been sexually assaulted. But journalists simultaneously draw a good deal of attention to cases like that of Drew Sterrett from the article “Lawsuit: U-M unfairly kicked student out over sexual assault allegation.” Readers end up being hit with contradictory articles, some of which say that sexual assault is on the rise and others that say sexual assault victims are making it up.
Reading the Rolling Stone article in this context, I started to wonder if the men from the University of Virginia fraternity party deserved a chance to speak in the article. What is a journalist’s role in covering both sides of this particular issue? Because many rape allegations are not taken seriously, and very few are reported and ultimately convicted, does presenting the alleged rapists’ or sexual assaulter’s side of the story benefit readers and society? Does it undermine the survivors’ story? This makes me wonder if journalism – a place in which both sides of the story should be objectively told – is the right medium to talk about specific instances of sexual assault. On the one hand, it could be extremely painful for a true survivor to suffer through reading the words of his or her perpetrator, but at the same time, it’s unfair to accuse someone of sexual assault and not give him or her the opportunity to respond. In this vein, does the gender of the journalist matter when covering sexual assault?
Finally, based on the readings, does it appear there is general consensus into what is sexual assault and what is not? Could these gaps impact the reliability of the sexual assault articles? For example, the UM survey on sexual assault defined sexual assault as any unconsensual kissing or touching. What could be potential impacts of journalists not having a single consistent definition of sexual assault? Do they have one?