How do state and local newspapers cover campus-based sexual assaults, and are these accounts biased? In this paper, I present a qualitative discourse analysis of state and local newspaper coverage of Minnesota-based campus sexual assaults between 2000 and 2012. Drawing on existing literature of the history of rape in law, as well as psychology, public opinion, and media coverage of crime, I analyze a set of reports of sexual assault on college campuses. Three common narratives, supported by stereotypes and rape myths, are found to garner media coverage: athlete rape, stranger rape, and fraternity rape. Coverage of each “type” of rape is subsequently analyzed for the presence of bias against rape victims, with statements to confirm the presence of such bias located in every case. Journalists covering these crimes tend to deflect blame from alleged perpetrators by presenting these students as athletic student heroes, dangerous and atypical strangers, and party boys unaccountable for their actions. Reporting of these crimes draws on misguided and victim-blaming language to assign responsibility to rape victims, often suggesting that rape prevention lies in locking one’s door and refraining from the consumption of alcohol. The paper concludes with a set of policy implications of this type of biased reporting and offers recommendations for how these biases may be corrected in the future.
“She Got What She Wanted”: Blaming the Victim in Newspaper Coverage of Minnesota College Sexual Assaults (2000-2012).
Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
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