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18 Language and rape myth use in news coverage of sexual violence in the United States, 2014–2017
  1. Grace Liu1,2,
  2. Olivia Egen1,2,
  3. Laura M Mercer2
  1. 1Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health
  2. 2CDC National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Statement of Purpose Explore the inclusion of rape myths and Language to Avoid terms (from the CDC’s Reporting on Sexual Violence guide) in media coverage of sexual violence (SV).

Methods/Approach A systematic random sample of SV-related articles published between 2014–2017 in the 48 most distributed newspaper outlets across the US were abstracted and coded (N=2600). We conducted chi-square analyses to explore associations between inclusion of Language to Avoid terms and rape myths (both general inclusion of any terms/myths and inclusion of specific terms/myths) with article framing [focus on specific SV incidents (episodic) vs. social context of SV (thematic)] and whether articles utilized news ‘hooks’ focusing on high-profile perpetrators or organizations involved in the SV incident (e.g., story of SV by a celebrity or professional athlete).

Results Nearly half of the articles (46.42%) used Language to Avoid terms and 13.5% included at least one rape myth. Compared to thematically-framed articles, articles using episodic frames were more likely to include rape myths (p=0.03) and, specifically, question the victim’s credibility (p=0.002). Articles discussing SV perpetration by celebrities/professional athletes, government officials/military personnel, or individuals affiliated with churches or non-collegiate schools were more likely than articles not employing these news hooks to include rape myths and Language to Avoid terms.

Conclusions Rape myths and Language to Avoid terms still appear in SV reporting despite recent focus on their problematic use. Differences in use within articles framed episodically and articles focused on perpetrators or organizations involved in SV incidents highlight where more concerted efforts may be made to ensure accurate media representation on incidents of SV.

Significance and Contributions to Injury and Violence Prevention Science Media portrayal of SV can shape public conversation and propagate harmful social norms about the experience and perpetration of SV. Changing language used in SV reporting may help shift norms and perceptions of SV and support public health efforts to address and prevent future abuse.

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