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News Coverage of Child Sexual Abuse and Prevention Essay (Article)

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Updated: May 10th, 2020

The selected article is written by three scholars from The Berkeley Media Studies Group, an independent group that promotes public health. The work is devoted to the problem of representation of child sexual abuse and the ways of prevention in American newspapers between 2007 and 2009. Introducing their article, the authors explain the significance of the problem. According to them, the coverage of child sexual abuse (CSA) cases in news tends to form public opinion on the subject, and it influences the actions of policymakers. Therefore, the scholars believe, it is highly important to examine the problem of the news coverage of CSA (Mejia, Cheyne, and Dorfman 470-472).

As a research sample, the authors used local, regional, and national newspapers published between 2007 and 2009; such choice allowed a multi-year representation. The researchers employed such keywords as “child sexual abuse”. They did not use other kinds of media as a sample since, to their belief, newspapers are the most easily assessable, as well as they set agenda for other media. The search was conducted in the “News and wires” feature at Nexis database (Mejia, Cheyne, and Dorfman 472).

To ensure the accuracy of the sample, the researchers excluded stories about clergy committing CSA since such stories have a scandal-like feature with the option of pressure on the church while the authors wanted to present the daily, routine coverage of CSA. Mejia, Cheyne, and Dorfman developed the so-called “constructed week,” a chronological random sample, which is a sample consisting of newspapers published in seven random days of the week each year. Such a sample, as the authors consider, is the most advantageous for the demonstration of the routine coverage and ensure equal coverage for each of the random days. Overall, two sample weeks for each of the three years of the study were constructed, making it 42 days of news coverage and 348 articles that, after the exclusion of reprinted ones, made 260 in total (Mejia, Cheyne, and Dorfman 472-473).

The authors have worked out a special coding tool during their previous studies on CSA. To prepare the present study, they used this tool to grasp tendencies in the news coverage of CSA. The tool helped to identify the frame of a newspaper article (episodic or thematic), as well as it allowed to code the details related to the case such as the description language or the relationship of the victim with the accused. Prior to coding the sample, a subset of articles was evaluated on the issue of interrater reliability. The authors managed to bring all coding measures to a satisfactory level of interrater reliability with the use of an iterative process. The Krippendorff alpha interrater metric was used to evaluate the agreement level between multiple raters, which made binary coding decisions following the accounting for a chance. All coding measures were brought to an appropriate level of reliability (Mejia, Cheyne, and Dorfman 473).

All the collected data were analyzed according to the following list of features. First, the framing of an article: episodic, i.e. a case of CSA was described, or thematic, i.e. an article contained summarized information andor statistics on the cases of CSA over some period. Second, the general topic of an article, i.e. part of which broader topic a particular case of CSA is considered (criminal justice, offenses inside social systems, etc.). Third, newsworthiness, i.e. the type of news (descriptions of a recent event, recalling anniversaries, etc.). Fourth, the specific features of the language used to describe the problem. Fifth, characterizations of victims and supposed abusers (the way, in which their age, gender, race, ethnicity, background are described). Sixth, notable features in the description of an incident. Seventh, the presence or absence of solution propositions in an article and, if present, the level of the proposed solutions: an individual level (focused on the individuals involved in a particular case) or an environmental level (focused on a broader context, such as the role of a family, government or school). Finally, the speakers in the coverage, i.e. who is quoted in an article (Mejia, Cheyne, and Dorfman 473-479).

Having analyzed 260 articles on CSA according to the following list, the authors received the following results. The overwhelming majority of articles reported the cases that happened in the US while the rest spoke of foreign cases. Most of the coverage were episodic. One-third of the articles were on the topic of criminal justice. The range of topics also included school abuse, child pornography, and child care systems. Reporting a recent criminal justice event was the most common type of news. As much as 96% of articles described the abuser as an acquaintance of the victim. More than a half of the examined articles used nonspecific language to describe the nature of the abuse. It was found that the genders of the abuser and victim are most often reported, and so was the exact or approximate age of the victim. The authors also made a striking conclusion that the vast majority of alleged abusers were male and adult. The researchers also concluded that the race or ethnicity of abusers and victims are reported only when it is directly connected with the story (for instance, mass trafficking of Asian children). Each article presented some unique feature attributed to the incident. Less than a third of the articles proposed solutions, and, of them, less than 20% proposed environmental measures. The first place among the quoted individuals was given to the representatives of the justice system, next were the families of the victims and themselves, then the advocates of the victims. More than a half of the quotes supported the victims (Mejia, Cheyne, and Dorfman 473-479).

As for more general conclusions, the authors reported that the topic of CSA is rare for the American media and is mostly connected with the problems of criminal justice. The authors believe that more frequent, thematic coverage would help public and policymakers to perceive the problem of CSA more profoundly. Furthermore, newsmakers need to propose solutions for such a problem more often in order to help form the public mind. In addition, the authors have discovered that news often misinterpret or cover the details of a case (the researchers used the national criminal justice survey data for a comparison); the reason for it may be a wish to protect the privacy of the individuals involved in a case. The authors admit that their study cover only three years and that a wide opportunity for further research still exists in this field (Mejia, Cheyne, and Dorfman 479-484).

In conclusion, the authors of the article performed a thorough collection of data and selected an accurate sample. Using a sophisticated coding tool, they managed to present the portrayal of CSA in the American media of 2007-2009 with the inclusion of various aspects of that portrayal.

Works Cited

Mejia, Pamela, Andrew Cheyne, and Lori Dorfman. “News Coverage of Child Sexual Abuse.” Journal of Child Sexual Abuse 21.4 (2012): 470-487. Print.

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