Boston's Metro Daily demonstrated how to improve media coverage of sexual assault, apologizing for an offensive cover story referring to victims of sexual violence as “babes” after outcry from a local anti-sexual violence advocacy organization.
Police in Boston are investigating a series of sexual assaults in the city after three incidents of groping near Boston University were reported, according to a May 5 report from The Boston Globe.
Metro Daily, a Boston-area free daily newspaper, reported on the investigation with a cover story headlined “BU Babes Beware,” featuring an accompanying photo of a woman from the torso-down. Following the article's publication, Safe Hub Collective, a local anti-street harassment and safe space advocacy group publicly called out Metro Daily in an open letter to the outlet, explaining that their cover “not only trivialize[d] the serious issue of sexual assault, but display[ed] the kind of attitude and language that actually contributes to it” :
By presenting an image of a headless woman, you dehumanize all women. The dehumanization of women is a key element to violence against them- when you view someone as less-than-human, as an object, it becomes easier to treat them that way. Men who commit assaults like this serial groper do view women as objects or property, which this cover only reinforces.
By referring to women as “babes,” you not only sexualize them, but you patronize them. Furthermore, this is exactly the kind of violent language that street harassers use towards women on a daily basis- this kind of reporting, using the language of violence to report on violence, is harmful and potentially retraumatizing. It also serves to trivialize the nature of the assault that the victims experienced.
Metro Daily quickly responded with an apology to readers later that same day, noting that although they had intended to “raise awareness of sexual assault and harassment” in Boston, “it's clear that that is not what was conveyed” through their coverage:
We've heard from many of you about our coverage yesterday about a serial groper who has been targeting women in and around Boston University's campus. While our intention was to raise awareness of sexual assault and harassment within our community, it's clear that that is not what was conveyed with our cover and headline.
Sexual assault is a largely silent epidemic in communities worldwide that affects women, men and children. Survivors of all backgrounds should feel comfortable talking about their experiences without fear that they will be judged or blamed by others. We will try harder in our future coverage to ensure that that will happen.
In a statement to Media Matters, Safe Hub Collective founding member Britni de la Cretaz explained that she is “happy to see that the Metro responded promptly and avoided the 'non-apology” trap that people so often fall into," but that, “only time will tell if their commitment to do better will actually be one that they keep. Our hope is that, going forward, not just the Metro but all news outlets can avoid falling into reporting that blames the victim, perpetuates harmful stereotypes and, ultimately, contributes to the very violence it claims to condemn. We believe that everyone can (and should) do better.”
De la Cretaz also urged media to not only provide the contact information of the police in their reports but to also include resources on rape crisis support. “I'd love to see the media do when it reports on sexual assault is provide a number to a rape crisis support hotline/local rape crisis center at the end of the piece, and not just the number to a police department,” she explained. “Changing the narrative means supporting survivors of assault and that means recognizing that not all survivors want to report to the police and that, even if they do, they may need support beyond that. ”
In prior reporting on sexual assault, outlets like ABC News have provided resources for those seeking additional information on rape, sexual assault, sexual violence, and crisis support.