U.S. print media’s coverage of campus rape and sexual assault is “significantly skewed toward the bylines and voices of men,” particularly when it comes to sports, according to a new report from the Women’s Media Center.
Overall, the study found that 55 percent of stories written about campus sexual assault were authored by men, compared to 31 percent by women. (The rest did not include a byline.) That disparity increases dramatically in the sports section, where 64 percent of the stories written about campus sexual assault were authored by men, and only 7 percent by women.
The study included data from 940 stories about high-school and college sexual assault written by top news outlets and wire services between September 1, 2014 and August 31, 2015. Since a 2014 report from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports and the Associated Press Sports Editors found that only 13 percent of all sports reporters are women, and since the most high-profile campus sexual assault cases often involve sports stars, the WMC decided to extrapolate the data pertinent to athletics.
In the sports section — which accounted for 23 percent of the articles collected — eight outlets had zero bylines by women, and only one percent of the articles in the Associated Press sports section were written by female authors.
CREDIT: Women’s Media Center
“It’s hard to be surprised anymore about gender disparity in sports media, but it is alarming,” Jessica Luther, a freelance writer and the author of Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape, due out in September 2016, told ThinkProgress.
“Even if women aren’t victims or survivors, we live in a culture that tells us to be fearful and that this could happen and if it does people won’t care,” Luther added. “For a lot of male reporters they don’t live with that in their daily life, and so there’s no way that won’t impact how you approach the topic, even if you’re empathetic.”
That sentiment was reflected in the data — the report not only found a wide disparity in the genders of the writers working on these stories, but also significant differences in the way that men and women covered the topic.
Male sportswriters sourced other men 81 percent of the time in their stories, while they only quoted women 7 percent of the time. (This was a stark increase from male journalists overall, who sourced other men 54 percent of the time and women 28 percent of the time.) Female sportswriters, meanwhile, quoted other women 49 percent of the time in their stories. And the source breakdown makes a difference. Just 10 percent of men sourced in the stories studied (both sports and non-sports) addressed the impact that the assault had on the alleged victim, compared to 22 percent of the women quoted.
The result of all of this bias? Alleged victims received less than two percent of the coverage in sports stories referencing sexual assault.
“When it’s not a full story and it’s biased towards men, we just perpetuate these stereotypes and myths about survivors — such as why they do what they do, and the effect that sexual assault has,” Luther said.
“We have to do better for survivors if we want them to tell us our stories.”