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"Effects of News Coverage: How the Media Can Help"

Medical, Legal, and Social Science Aspects of Child Sexual Exploitation: A Comprehensive Review of Pornography, Prostitution, and Internet Crimes. St. Louis: Glenn Whaley/GWMedical Publishing, 2005.

   When children are kidnapped by strangers or killed in a school shooting, the violence is explosive. Police and EMTs rush in, and with them the news media. Through their reports, the impact is felt by the wider community, at times by the nation and the world. The public rallies, empathizing with the victims and their families: “That could be my child!” Many are moved to help, and to try to prevent the crime from happening again.
   But when violence takes the form of child abuse or childhood sexual exploitation, the explosion is muffled, as though it were taking place far underground. The public as a whole is unaware; if they know about it at all, most people keep their distance. They fabricate excuses or explanations that allow them to turn away and continue on without altering their view of the world.
   Where is the public outrage, the demands that policies or laws be changed so that children are safer? . . .
   This chapter provides a brief view into the world of news coverage—primarily print journalism—and its impact on the community’s response to the sexual exploitation of children. The aim here is not to bash journalism, but to encourage effective reporting on this issue. Promoting changes in news coverage—as in legal or medical procedures—requires an understanding of the process as it now exists; the first part of this chapter explains some of the basics of journalism, as well as the pressures journalists work under, and what they value. A look at research on the coverage of domestic violence homicides illustrates how news gathering and writing can influence the outcome of a story, from both the readers’ and journalists’ perspective. And because much can be learned by examining what works rather than what doesn’t, this chapter provides examples of news coverage that have had a positive effect on the community’s understanding of child sexual exploitation, with a look behind the scenes at how those stories came about, and what obstacles the reporters faced in writing them. The chapter concludes with ideas about how to impact the news in ways that respect journalists’ work and at the same time protect victims.