26 July 2023: The University of Canberra’s News and Media Research Centre (N&MRC) has developed evidence-based Guides to encourage and support responsible, trauma-informed reporting of child sexual abuse in the media, and to equip and support victims and survivors to liaise productively and safely with media. The Guides were launched today by Attorney-General the Hon Mark Dreyfus KC, MP.
The Guides, titled Reporting on Child Sexual Abuse: Guidance for Media and Engaging with Media about Child Sexual Abuse: For Victims and Survivors were commissioned by the Australian Government National Office for Child Safety.
Director of the News and Media Research Centre and project lead, Professor Kerry McCallum said trust, choice, collaboration, empowerment and respect for diversity should inform any approach to reporting on child sexual abuse.
“Media reporting is vital to raising awareness, challenging taboos, increasing public understanding of child sexual abuse and driving social, policy and legal change,” Professor McCallum said. “Our research shows that there is some thoughtful and considered reporting on child sexual abuse, particularly in regional areas. The reporting frame can be problematic, however.”
The research found that the majority of child sexual abuse reporting arises from routine court and police reporting which often focuses on the perpetrator.
“Reporting on one-off celebrity cases, and headlines that minimise or sensationalise child sexual abuse, can also distort and undermine public discussion of child sexual abuse, be damaging for wider community understanding, and may be harmful and re-traumatising for those with lived experience,” Professor McCallum said.
“Victims and survivors can also be empowered when they tell their stories of child sexual abuse through the media. Their stories deserve to be handled with sensitivity, empathy and respect but to date, there has been limited support for Australian media professionals to tell these important, personal stories in a trauma-informed manner.”
Guidance for Media provides practical advice for media professionals, including suggestions on language, terminology and image use, as well as advice for interviewing, working with and supporting victims and survivors throughout their interactions.
Engaging with Media was created to bridge a gap between victims and survivors and media professionals, ensuring that victims and survivors are educated about media and can make informed decisions when liaising with them.”
“Journalism can be a powerful tool for community education and prevention of child sexual abuse,” said Professor McCallum. “We hope that the Guides can help reframe the narrative about child sexual abuse, and support media and victims and survivors in the process.”
The Guides were developed further to an extensive research project comprising a literature review, review of related guidelines from around the world, a quantitative and qualitative media analysis and consultation with stakeholders from media, child safety sectors and victims and survivors.
The researchers give special thanks to the many victims and survivors, advocates, service providers, media professionals and other contributors whose experiences and insights helped inform the Guides.
The Media Guides for Reporting on Child Sexual Abuse can be accessed on the National Office for Child Safety website: https://www.childsafety.gov.au/mediaguides