Putting Media Reporting on Sexual Assault Under a Magnifying Glass

Photo of 3 participants in WAM! workshop

by Natalie Hill

On April 26, WAM! Vancouver convened a small but passionate group on unceded Coast Salish territories (on the University of British Columbia campus), and facilitated a powerful, productive and practical dialogue about the coverage of sexual assault in Canadian media.

The objective of the interactive workshop was to gather feedback on a toolkit for journalists, created by the Toronto-based, grassroots feminist collective, femifesto. After publishing a first draft of the toolkit, the organization decided to “crowdsource” revisions, soliciting feedback from feminists, journalists and other interested citizens from all across on the country.

WAM! Vancouver provided the space for people passionate about the news coverage of rape and sexual assault to add their voice to the conversation.

Attendees reflected WAM! values: the group was intergenerational, diverse in gender identity, and included people who situated themselves both outside and inside the system of media we were collectively trying to influence. The group was impressed by femifesto’s work, and were glad to have the opportunity to gather with other like-minded individuals and have their voices heard.

After reviewing WAM!’s values and setting safer space agreements, participants broke into groups to review different aspects of the toolkit, and had an open discussion about the toolkit’s primary component: a summary checklist for journalists reporting on sexual assault.

The group was focused, intentional, and empathetic in their analysis. Many tried to imagine how the toolkit would be perceived by working journalists and tried to understand the systemic barriers and constrained (even sexist) systems journalists themselves must navigate in their workplaces. How feminist activists and media critics could engage in two-way dialogue with members of the media became a primary focus of the event: “How do we bring journalists into this process?” asked participants, prompting the organizers to begin the process of brainstorming this very question for future events.

The group also had a lot of feedback on language and accessibility in the toolkit generally. Participants noted that academic feminist language is not necessary well understood, and that lesser known terms should be explained in a glossary, if not fleshed out in more simple language throughout. Participants also made helpful observations about how changes to the toolkit’s layout could make it easier to read and digest. The group was committed to helping make the toolkit as accessible as possible for working journalists.

All in all, the group was incredibly engaged and committed to the cause – so much so that the workshop was extended by hour just to keep the great dialogue going! The organizers are looking forward to capturing all of the group’s feedback in a summary report, and submitting it to the femifesto collective for their consideration.

At the beginning of the workshop, the organizers had invited participants to share how media coverage of sexual assault makes them feel. By far, the most common response was: “frustrated.” It was clear by the end of the workshop, however, that there was at least two reasons to be hopeful: WAM!, and opportunities like these to really make a difference.

WAM! Vancouver thanks everyone who attended and provided their insights to this process. We are looking forward to future events that help bridge the gap between those trying to bring about gender justice in the media, and those with the power to help make it so.