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Child Sexual Abuse and the Media: A Literature Review a

Jane Long Weatherred a

University of South Carolina Aiken, Aiken, South Carolina, USA Published online: 30 Jan 2015.

Click for updates To cite this article: Jane Long Weatherred (2015) Child Sexual Abuse and the Media: A Literature Review, Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 24:1, 16-34, DOI: 10.1080/10538712.2015.976302 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10538712.2015.976302

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Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 24:16–34, 2015 Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: 1053-8712 print/1547-0679 online DOI: 10.1080/10538712.2015.976302

Child Sexual Abuse and the Media: A Literature Review JANE LONG WEATHERRED

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University of South Carolina Aiken, Aiken, South Carolina, USA

The media play an important role in practice, policy, and public perception of child sexual abuse, in part by the way in which news stories are framed. Child sexual abuse media coverage over the past 50 years can be divided into five time periods based on the types of stories that garnered news coverage and the ways in which public policy was changed. This systematic literature review of research on child sexual abuse media coverage across disciplines and geographic boundaries examines 16 studies published in the English language from 1995 to 2012. A seminal work is identified, citation network analysis is applied, and a framework model is developed. KEYWORDS content analysis, framing theory, media advocacy, media effects, public health, public policy

The role of the news media in practice, policy, and the public perception of child sexual abuse (CSA) is profound. The combination of social, political, economic, and cultural forces affect public health and well-being, and the media serve to advance discussions among the public and policymakers about particular public health issues (Wallack et al., 1993). The media can thus potentially influence policymakers on such public health issues as CSA. “In our ‘mass-mediated’ democracy, public health battles are fought not only in the clinics and the courts, but also on the 10 PM news, the front pages, financial sections, and even on 24 hour, all talk radio” (Wallack & Dorfman, 1996, p. 294). Because public health battles are fought along political as well as social and behavioral fronts, it is important to understand the media’s Received 28 March 2013; revised 25 June 2014; accepted 26 June 2014. Address correspondence to Jane Long Weatherred, Department of Communications, University of South Carolina Aiken, 471 University Parkway, Aiken, SC 29801. E-mail: [email protected] usca.edu Color versions of one or more of the figures in the article can be found online at www. tandfonline.com/wcsa. 16

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role and impact. Furthermore, in order to achieve changes in public health regarding CSA, it is also important to consider the basic values on which society is based and how the media can influence perceptions of this issue. The notion of framing among communications scholars developed in tandem with agenda-setting theory as a way to examine media influence. Frames are “principles of selection, emphasis and presentation composed of tacit theories about what exists, what happens, and what matters” (Gitlin, 1980, p. 7). Framing plays a key role in the process of defining social problems by “selecting and highlighting some facets of events or issues, and making connections among them so as to promote a particular interpretation, evaluation, and/or solution” (Entman, 1993, p. 52), thus suggesting how people ought to think about and act on events and issues (Gamson & Modigliani, 1989). Journalists and special interest groups alike can influence specific frames (Gamson & Modigliani, 1989). In mass communications research, framing theory seeks to define how the news media shape public opinion (Scheufele, 1999) and is more important when one considers that for many Americans, the news media are the main and possibly only source of information about CSA (Mejia, Cheyne, & Dorfman, 2012). In moral panic theory, the perception of a threat is not in alignment with the facts. It has been used to analyze media portrayals of child abuse (Edwards & Lohman, 1994; Jenkins, 1992; Wilczynski & Sinclair, 1999), especially those that highlight the stranger danger aspects of child abduction and is persuasive in punitive policymaking. That the media are the vehicle by which most Americans learn about CSA has been persistently documented within CSA prevention literature. In prevention education studies, parents cited the media as the source of information on CSA from 90% to 99% of the time (Babatsikos, 2010; Elrod & Rubin, 1993; Finkelhor, 1984; Pullins & Jones, 2006). For this reason, the emphasis given to certain aspects of CSA in news stories can have ramifications in the development of public policy. CSA is considered a public health problem in the United States, with federal health officials calculating that child abuse and the strains it places on the criminal justice, health care, and welfare systems amounts to $1.27 million per year (Fang, Brown, Florence, & Mercy, 2012). The average lifetime cost of each victim of nonfatal child abuse is estimated to be $210,000, therefore the treatment for all child abuse—including CSA—can potentially cost more than other significant health conditions, including stroke and type 2 diabetes (Fang et al., 2012). More than a decade ago, the 16th surgeon general, David Satcher, published a call to action to promote sexual health and responsible behavior and included CSA among a number of sexually related public health problems in the United States (Satcher, 2001). In a similar vein, the World Health Organization (WHO), which considers CSA and its prevention a public health priority, identified four levels of preventative focus: biological and personal risk factors, close relationships of family and friends, the community

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in which violence occurs, and the broader social context in which violence is either accepted or prohibited (Krug, Mercy, Dahlberg, & Zwi, 2002). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also announced its intent to focus on CSA prevention (Hammond, 2003), with its ultimate goal being “to create a social context in which child maltreatment is not tolerated, and where prevention and intervention services are evidence based, effective, widely available, and socially valued” (Hammond, 2003, p. 83). While experts estimate that 1 in 7 girls and 1 in 25 boys—or 1 out of 10 children—will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday and that there are approximately 39 million adult survivors of CSA in America, these numbers are based on only reported and confirmed cases (Finkelhor, 1994; Townsend & Rheingold, 2013). Prominent CSA scholar David Finkelhor believes that the prevalence of CSA incidents may, in fact, be much higher despite a decline in reported CSA cases since the early 1990s (Finkelhor & Jones, 2006). Prior to this decline, the number of reported CSA cases continued to increase, beginning with the 1974 passage of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) (1974, Public Law 93-247). Finkelhor vows to continue his research until he has convinced the American public that CSA is more prevalent than they would like to imagine (Finkelhor, 1984). If the public perception of CSA can be influenced by the news media, which in turn can impact public policy, how then is CSA being portrayed in the media? This is an important question for child abuse advocates and public health professionals. This systematic literature review examines the current body of peer-reviewed research about the news media and CSA in order to make observations about the current scope and identify areas for further development. The outline of this review is as follows: a brief history of CSA and the media, definition of terms, methodology, results, a framework model categorizing the body of research, followed by discussion and suggestions for future research.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF CSA AND THE MEDIA The past 50 years of CSA media coverage can be divided into five time periods based on prominent stories, predominant messages, and legislative actions (see Table 1). This study focuses largely on the United States but also includes Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. The first time frame, 1960–1979, is considered the period of discovery of CSA, or early history. The 1980s, the second time frame, is referred to by CSA legal historians as a backlash against child protective measures. It was followed by the passage of strict child sex offender laws throughout the 1990s, the third stage. During the fourth stage, 2000–2009, there was an intense focus on the Catholic Church CSA scandals that shifted toward CSA within institutions. The fifth and current stage, from 2010 to the present, is underscored by

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Child Sexual Abuse and the Media TABLE 1 Stages of CSA Media Coverage 1960–1979

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Stage

Early history

1980–1989 Backlash

1990–1999

2000–2009

2010–Present

Sex offender Religious legislation institutions (United States)

High-profile cases involving institutions Prominent “The Battered- Day care Child abduction Catholic church Sandusky, Boy Stories Child centers, cases, stranger (United States Scouts of Syndrome,” repressed danger and United America CAPTA memories Kingdom) Predominant Physicians may Collective Survivors speak Cover up of Institutional Message be the ones denial out abuses accountability to discover (1980-84), (1991–1994), spanned many child physical false sex offender years and sexual accusations registration, abuse, should and punitive report it misconduct measures (1985–1990)

the prolonged and intense coverage of the Jerry Sandusky CSA scandal at Pennsylvania State University and the release of the Boy Scouts of America “perversion files.”

Early History, 1960–1979 Prior to 1960, U.S. physicians, legislators, and media paid little attention to the subject of child abuse and neglect. After Henry Kempe’s 1962 publication of “The Battered-Child Syndrome” and the subsequent media attention (Nelson, 1986), by 1970, all 50 states had passed legislation mandating that teachers, doctors, and other professionals report physical abuse (Nelson, 1986). CAPTA led to the creation of the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect which, among other things, was involved with more effective state reporting laws and systems to address reports. It was later replaced by the Office on Child Abuse and Neglect. At this juncture, recognition of the physical abuse of children was far greater than that of CSA, prompting David Walters to remark that “virtually no literature exists on the sexual abuse of children” (Walters, 1975, p. 4) and for Kempe to cite, “The sexual abuse of children and adolescents is another hidden pediatric problem and a neglected area” (Kempe, 1978, p. 382). Vincent De Francis, the first researcher to break new ground on the prevalence of CSA (Myers, 2008), claimed that the problem of sexual abuse of children was of unknown national dimensions but that the findings strongly pointed to the probability of an enormous national incidence many times larger than what had been reported (De Francis & American Humane Association, Children’s Division, 1969). Media coverage of child abuse cases rose substantially after the introduction of CAPTA. In fact, between 1977 and

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1978, almost every national magazine had published an article about CSA (Myers, 2008).

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The Backlash, 1980–1989 Media interest peaked in the midst of 15 high-profile day care center CSA cases in the 1980s, contributing to America’s daycare sexual abuse hysteria (Finkelhor, Williams, Burns, & Kalinowski, 1988, Cheit, 2014). Throughout this time period media reports about CSA became increasingly critical of child protective services, characterizing the system as irresponsible and out of control and likening its advocates to the witch hunters of colonial Salem, Massachusetts (Hechler, 1988, Cheit, 2014). In response to the news coverage, public opinion rose against child protection measures in the 1980s and 1990s. Child protection legal historian John Myers noted, “There is growing evidence for a backlash against child protection” (Myers, 1994, p. 17). The passage of the Child Abuse Victims Rights Act of 1986 enabled CSA victims to file civil lawsuits against their perpetrators and the institutions that employed them even after the statute of limitations had run out. At about the same time, celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey began to disclose past victimizations. As a result of the heightened media attention, adults across the country began to recall repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse. As victims and their psychologists began to delve into these repressed memories, challengers to this notion began to label them false memories. The False Memory Syndrome Foundation was established in 1992 by the parents of Jennifer Freyd, a cognitive psychology professor who had recalled being a victim of incest (Kitzinger & Reilly, 1997). The foundation argues that it is very difficult to accurately recall memories of systematic abuse from childhood had that occurred decades earlier. Two successful civil lawsuits initiated by Ross Cheit, against the man who molested him as a child and the San Francisco Boys Chorus that employed him, are considered the most well documented case law examples available to the public (Cheit, 1998; Freyd, 1996).

Sex Offender Legislation, 1990–1999 Throughout the 1990s, news coverage of some of the most horrific child abduction cases combined with intense lobbying by victims’ parents resulted in the passage of several sex offender restriction laws. Megan’s Law, known at the federal level as the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act of 1994, requires law enforcement to make sex offender registration information available to the public and requires notification of address and employment status changes, though details vary by state. There have been several changes since its passage,

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including the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act in 2006. However, politicians and the media continually debate the effectiveness of these laws in preventing CSA.

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Catholic Church, 2000–2009 The CSA committed by priests and covered up by the Roman Catholic Church have received the most intense and longest running media coverage of any CSA event. The Pew Research Center documented two spikes in media coverage of the Catholic Church scandal, the first being in 2002 when the Boston Globe ran a series of articles on clergy abuse in the Boston area. The scandal spread across the United States, though there was little news coverage in Europe (Pew Research Center, 2010). The New York Times ran 225 articles over the course of 100 days, including 41 consecutive days on the front page (Nelson, 2009; Plante & McChesney, 2011). Associated Press readers ranked the Catholic Church scandal the third most important story of 2002 (Cheit, Shavit, & Reiss-Davis, 2010). Civil lawsuits filed against the Catholic Church on behalf of victims have resulted in settlements in excess of $2 billion between 1950 and 2007 (Associated Press, 2007), and, according to watchdog website Bishop Accountability, in excess of $3 billion through 2012 (Schaffer, 2012). A second spike in 2010 was heavily concentrated on clerical CSA throughout Europe and on the Pope (Pew Research Center, 2010). The intense media focus on the Catholic Church and CSA has led some scholars to apply media cultivation framework theory to an examination of how this coverage has impacted public opinion (Mancini & Shields, 2013).

Sandusky and the Boy Scouts, 2010–Present Media coverage has also been prolonged and intense throughout the arrest and conviction of retired Pennsylvania State University football coach and serial pedophile Jerry Sandusky, who is serving a 30- to 60-year sentence for 45 criminal counts. The university’s former president Graham Spanier, former vice president Gary Schultz, and former athletic director Tim Curley face trial on perjury, failure to report suspected child abuse, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy. In 2010, the Associated Press, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Oregonian newspaper and Oregon Public Broadcasting Corporation actively enjoined civil lawsuits to prompt a state supreme court judge to approve the release of decades of more than 1,200 confidential “ineligible volunteers” compiled by the Boy Scouts of America (Felch & Christensen, 2012). The “perversion files” were incorporated into an online database hosted by the Los Angeles Times (Felch & Christensen, 2012). Although the intent of the files was to prevent scout leaders accused of CSA from serving in other troops in

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the United States, this effort was ultimately unenforceable, and many cases were never reported to authorities (Felch & Christensen, 2012).

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DEFINITION OF TERMS Psychologists define CSA as contact between a child and an adult or other person significantly older or in a position of power or control over the child in which the child is being used for sexual gratification for the adult or other person (American Psychological Association, 1999). The law defines CSA as a criminal and civil offense in which an adult engages in sexual activity with a minor or exploits a minor for the purpose of sexual gratification (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2011). The term media applies to CSA news stories appearing in newspapers, magazines, tabloid newspapers, and television news reports. Media advocacy is the strategic use of the media to encourage social and public policy changes (Jernigan & Wright, 1996).

METHODOLOGY A search was performed through EBSCO, JSTOR, MEDLINE, Google Scholar, Google, and the Web of Social Sciences for English-language articles that (a) included “child sexual abuse” and “media” in the title, abstract, or key words; (b) focused its research on CSA and the media; and (c) used qualitative, quantitative, or both methods to collect or analyze data about CSA and the media. Research across disciplines and geographic boundaries were included; however, research papers that did not utilize qualitative or quantitative methods and articles from non-peer-reviewed sources (e.g., mainstream media) were excluded.

RESULTS The initial search of electronic databases yielded 231 articles. Narrowing the time frame to articles published from January 1, 1995, to December 31, 2012, resulted in 124 articles that were reviewed for relevancy before the data set was analyzed. Articles about the effectiveness of CSA prevention and awareness media campaigns were removed because they did not address media coverage of CSA. Two literature reviews (Gough, 1996; Kitzinger, 1999), three books (Kitzinger, 2004; Myers, 1994; Nelson, 1986), a master’s thesis (Rossi, 2012), and a research paper (Dorfman, 2003) were removed because they were not peer-reviewed research. David Gough’s 1996 article, “The Literature on Child Abuse and the Media,” which focused on the work of British and Australian scholars, was not systematic or narrowly focused on CSA and was

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removed. Two online articles (Dorfman, Mejia, Gonzalez, & Cheyne, 2012; O’Neil, 2010) about funded research on CSA and the media were included. A total of 16 articles met the inclusion and exclusion criteria for this literature review. Please refer to Table 2 for descriptions of each study discussed within this review.

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Literature Review Framework Model In order to best categorize the 16 studies about CSA in the media, a framework model was designed (Figure 1). The model reveals that most of the research was conducted about media message content, a few on public perceptions of CSA media messages, and two on media effects. An interpretation of the model and the studies within it follows. Ten studies analyzed media content in an effort to determine themes and patterns within news coverage of CSA during a specific time period (Beckett, 1996; Cheit, 2003; Cheit et al., 2010; Corbella & Collings, 2007; Dorfman et al., 2012; Goddard & Saunders, 2000; Kitzinger & Skidmore, 1995; Mejia, Cheyne, & Dorfman, 2012; Thakker, 2006; Wilczynski & Sinclair, 1999). Of these 10, most analyzed media content over a 1- to 3-year period. Only 1 adopted a longitudinal approach, analyzing content over 2 decades (Beckett, 1996). Four out of the 16 examined public perception of CSA news stories (Collings, 2002a, 2002b; Kitzinger, 2000; O’Neil, 2010). Two studies were deemed outliers because they attempted to determine media effects (Ducat, Thomas, & Blood, 2009; McDevitt, 1996). One sought to determine the effect of a law on media content (Ducat et al., 2009), and the other attempted to determine if media content had any effect on public perception of CSA (McDevitt, 1996). Neither was able to establish causality (Ducat et al., 2009; McDevitt, 1996). While the objectives differed, the entire body of research resulted in similar conclusions. All 16 studies found both media content and audience perception to be focused on individual blame for CSA. The way in which media cover CSA is typical of crime stories in general, as an episodic event, generally highlighting the most egregious, sensationalistic cases. Typical of this type of news coverage are the “stranger danger” stories resulting in spikes in CSA news directly related to the arrest and adjudication of the most extreme offenders and cases. The media spotlight is on the offender and the criminal justice system rather than the larger societal implications of CSA. Each study reported that few news stories focused on law and public policy, CSA as a public health issue, or preventative measures.

Media Studies This group of studies examined CSA in newspapers, television transcripts, magazines, and other periodical content. Because of the research focus on media content, this group is categorized as media studies. Kitzinger

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a

CAPTA (1974; amended 1978, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2003)

Child Abuse Victims Rights Act (1986)

Beckett (1984–1994)

Kitzinger and Skidmore 1995 (1987)

Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act (1989)

1980–1989

Sexual Offences Act (2003)

Collings 2002a (2000), Collings 2002b (2000), Corbella (2001–2004;) Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act (2007)

Ducat (2003–2007), Thakker (2003)

Serious Sex Offender Monitoring Act (2005)

2000–2009

Cheit 2003 (1993–2001), Mejia (2007–2009) Cheit 2010 (1992–2004) Jacob Wetterling Crimes Child Abuse Prevention Against Children and and Enforcement Act Sexually Violent (2000) Offender Registration Act (1994)

Kitzinger 2000 (1991)

Goddard and Saunders (2000)

Wilczynski (1995)

1990–1999

Lead author of article, with years studied in parentheses. b Legislation enacted, with year enacted in parentheses.

Legislationb

United States Researcha McDevitt (1963–1989)

Legislationb

United Kingdom Researcha

Legislationb

South Africa Researcha

Legislationb

New Zealand Researcha

Legislationb

Australia Researcha

1960–1979

TABLE 2 Reviewed Studies on CSA and the Media and Relevant Legislation

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Protection of Vulnerable Persons Act, FL (2012); House Bills 435, 436, 726, Penn (2013)

O’Neil (2010)

Dorfman (2011)

2010–Present

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FIGURE 1 Literature review framework model.

and Skidmore’s “Playing Safe: Media Coverage of Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Strategies” is clearly the seminal work within this body of research. Conducted in the United Kingdom, the study found news coverage of CSA episodic, individualistic, and focused on stranger danger with no mention of greater causality, societal implications, or prevention (Kitzinger & Skidmore, 1995). The authors found that 71% of newspaper and 83% of television coverage were case-based, with very few stories about the causes and prevention of CSA (Kitzinger & Skidmore, 1995). Recommendations were offered to CSA advocates, urging them to “capitalize on newsworthy events in order to promote the prevention debate and try to counter the tabloidization of news” (Kitzinger & Skidmore, 1995, p. 54). Although no theoretical framework was applied, this work is the first to make mention of what will later be defined as media advocacy in published research about CSA and the media. And, although this is the seminal work, this group of scholars only gave it three citations. American sociologist Katherine Beckett conducted the only longitudinal study of media representation of CSA (Cheit et al., 2010) and was the first to apply framing theory. Beckett applied frame analysis to a set of specialized publications and four news magazines from 1970 to 1994 (Beckett, 1996). She

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found that while the importance of CSA as an issue remained strong over time, the media frames changed. Different framing patterns were identified, but the individualistic, episodic focus remained the same. Cheit attempted to replicate Beckett’s work by applying her frame analysis to a later time period, however, he found that news stories were about a wide range of CSA topics and not evenly distributed (Cheit et al., 2010). A spike was identified in 2002–2003 largely due to coverage of CSA in the Catholic Church. The spike mimicked the patterns in coverage of crime by the news media. Ultimately, his findings contradicted Beckett’s claim of changes in the media over time as he found that the spikes were due to specific cases, followed by a significant drop, or complete lack of coverage between 1992 and 2004 (Cheit et al., 2010). Earlier Cheit established that the severity of CSA cases and number of charges led to increased news coverage in only a few select cases (Cheit, 2003). The study successfully challenged the notion of child abuse hysteria in the media, noting that there were far more actual criminal cases than were reported in the news (Cheit, 2003). But again, the findings were that news was focused on the individualistic nature of a few sensational cases and there was a lack of reporting about the societal implications and reality of CSA. This article received the second largest number of citations among this group of scholars, with a total of five. The most cited work, with six citations, is indistinguishable from previous research except that it applied moral panic theory, which is based on the notion that the perception of a threat is not in alignment with the facts and has been used to analyze media portrayals of child abuse (Edwards & Lohman, 1994; Jenkins, 1992; Wilczynski & Sinclair, 1999). This work also included other forms of child abuse in its analysis (Wilczynski & Sinclair, 1999) and was conducted by criminal justice scholars in Australia. They found that the media focus on the most horrific cases of both physical and sexual child abuse. Framing theory and a discussion about potential media effects on public policies regarding CSA were presented in Thakker and Durrant’s research, which clearly defined gaps in research about CSA, the media, and public policy (Thakker, 2006). Their content analysis found the nature of news coverage of sex offending in New Zealand during a one-year period to be episodic. Despite their call for future research on the causal relationship between media coverage of CSA and public opinion and policies, they received only one additional citation from the scholars in this cohort. South Africa has one of the highest rates of sexual crime in the world, yet news coverage lags far behind the true extent of the problem throughout the country (Corbella & Collings, 2007). This study ultimately confirmed Cheit’s (2003) findings that the number of press reports was much lower than that of confirmed sex offense cases.

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The first scholars to study the language of CSA in the news claimed that “little attention has been paid to detailed analysis of the language used to describe child abuse and child victims in media texts” (Goddard, 2000, p. 39). Results revealed gender neglect; the victim was frequently referred to as “it” in news stories and this imprecise language amounted to “textual abuse of the child” (Goddard & Saunders, 2000, p. 44). Although subsequent work by other scholars would make the very same observations about language used in CSA news coverage, this work received no citations. Two content analyses conducted by Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) and published in 2012 are more recent contributions to this field of inquiry (Dorfman et al., 2012; Mejia et al., 2012). The first study covered the period before Sandusky was indicted and charged with CSA crimes and the second concentrated on the first nine days of Sandusky news coverage. Both studies made essentially the same conclusions as had previous research, but with two important differences: the story angle had shifted from “stranger danger” to one better representing the reality of CSA, and the media were more likely to report that a perpetrator was probably someone a child knows and respects in the community (Mejia et al., 2012). The Sandusky study found other aspects of news coverage had changed as well. Sports reporters, who were covering CSA for the very first time, focused on institutional accountability (Dorfman et al., 2012). The language in coverage of the Sandusky trial was more precise and descriptive than in previous cases, possibly because of the highly accessible and detailed grand jury report released on the Internet (Dorfman et al., 2012).

Public Perception Studies A common theme for this small group of public perception studies is that the global public views CSA as an individual problem and has a poor understanding of CSA causes and prevention. The results were almost identical to the media studies. No clearly identifiable citation pattern exists within this group. Collings, for example, conducted two studies yet received only one citation (Collings, 2002a, 2002b). Kitzinger combined years of focus group research on public perceptions of CSA news and applied the concepts of media templates and framing theory (Kitzinger, 2000). Findings revealed that the British public applied media frames of a previous CSA event to a recent CSA case in the news (Kitzinger, 2000). Despite the extensive research about both media coverage and public perceptions of CSA, Kitzinger did not receive any citations for this particular work from the other scholars. In both of his studies, Collings found that stereotypical news reports of CSA have “the potential for influencing social judgments of child sexual abuse in ways that are likely to create a non-supportive environment for abuse victims” (Collings, 2002b, pp. 1144–1145; Collings, 2002a). He found

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that offender blame, while good, perpetuated an individualistic view of CSA and did not have larger implications for the betterment of society (Collings, 2002a). CSA was addressed within the larger context of sexual violence in a Frameworks Institute study (O’Neil, 2010). While advocates seek solutions within a larger social and cultural framework, the American public continues to see sexual violence as an individual problem.

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Media Effects Outliers Because this group of scholars conducted the only studies to focus on media effects of CSA news, they are categorized as outliers (Ducat et al., 2009; McDevitt, 1996). McDevitt investigated the relationship between CSA news stories and reports made to a mandated agency over a 25-year period and found that both media coverage and CSA incident reports increased, usually after changes in policy, revealing a lack of causality on the part of the media but suggesting that changes in policy may precede increases in both media coverage and incident reports (McDevitt, 1996). A group of Australian psychologists explored the effect of Victoria’s Serious Sex Offender Monitoring Act of 2005 on newspaper reports of CSA (Ducat et al., 2009). It was hypothesized that passage of the new law would influence the extent and nature of media coverage. However, although the number of news articles doubled, the themes within CSA news stories remained the same after passage of legislation (Ducat et al., 2009). Although neither was able to establish causality, the findings reflect that, within the overall body of work, the media focused on individual blame without putting CSA into a larger societal context. The media effects outliers are notable in that they attempted to demonstrate a causality of media coverage on public policy or the lack thereof. Expanding the quantity and scope of news outlets for content analysis and conducting further research about community perceptions and reactions to CSA news were recommended (Ducat et al., 2009; McDevitt, 1996).

Theoretical Background The 16 studies were examined to determine which sought to ground the research in disciplinary theory and which were descriptive of media content and/or of audience perceptions of media content. Seven applied the framing theory of mass communications (Beckett, 1996; Cheit et al., 2010; Dorfman et al., 2012; Kitzinger, 2000; Mejia et al., 2012; O’Neil, 2010; Thakker, 2006), one applied moral panic theory (Wilczynski & Sinclair, 1999) and eight made no use of theory (Cheit, 2003; Collings, 2002a, 2002b; Corbella & Collings, 2007; Ducat et al., 2009; Goddard & Saunders, 2000; Kitzinger & Skidmore,

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1995; McDevitt, 1996). Since only half of the studies sought to apply theory, no strong pattern of theory building emerged, with the exception of framing theory, which has been dominant from 2010 through 2012.

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DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION That so few studies have been conducted specifically about CSA in the media was a surprising finding. In the field of media scholarship, particularly health communication, the communication of risk to the public is an important part of the process leading to changes in societal treatment and conditions for improved health for the public at large. In the past, media communication, specifically the treatment of an issue in the news, has influenced changes in societal views and public policies. The use of seat belts, elimination of smoking in public places, and banning of trans fats in restaurants are a few examples (Noar, 2006). In many cases real change may only come about with changes to public health law (Snyder & Hamilton, 2002). Since most people seek to identify the causes of social problems and assign blame, Americans frame issues to portray the larger social system as fundamentally sound and prefer to attribute problems to corrupt, inept, or irresponsible individuals (Wallack et al., 1993). This results in a lack of attention to the larger issues of systemic problems within society at large. “Various problems—AIDS, alcoholism, child abuse, cigarette addiction, drug abuse, and overeating—have been framed as problems of individuals rather than society” (Hallahan, 1999, p. 220). Shanto Iyengar, in his body of research on the framing of responsibility for political issues and poverty, argues that news coverage is dominated by the episodic framing of stories to the exclusion of thematic framing, further illustrating the framing of responsibility model (Iyengar, 1990, 1996). “An unintended consequence of the preponderance of episodic framing is that audiences feel absolved of responsibility for social problems because responsibility is so readily attributed to people portrayed in the news, whether or not the newsmakers depicted are culpable” (Hallahan, 1999, p. 221). Since the bulk of research conducted about CSA in the media concluded that CSA is framed as a problem assigned to individuals, inferences can be made about how the American public views CSA and how this may or may not lead to changes in public policies. And since Americans, by and large, view their society and its institutions to be trustworthy and safe, the perception is that individuals are responsible for CSA and thus remain separate from institutional or societal culpability. While there have been subtle changes noted in the Sandusky content analysis study (Dorfman et al., 2012), the news coverage of CSA continues to be focused on the blame of the individual or even individuals within an institution. There is still a very real lack

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of coverage about prevention of CSA and its effects on society, law, and future public policies. Will media advocacy efforts change news coverage of CSA in the future? Media advocacy makes research-based recommendations to the news media regarding public health policies. Communication strategies that seek to educate the public about a new law and its importance are examples of social marketing strategy tactics usually employed by public health practitioners (Dorfman, 2003). Seat belt laws and their effect on individual behavior change is an example of an upstream strategy, but the passage of legislation is the ultimate goal of media advocacy. The notion that content analyses support media advocacy, which in turn could alter the way media frame public health issues like CSA, is a good one. However, as long as the American media and public continue to frame CSA based on individual assignation of blame, changes in public policy will not originate with the media or public opinion. Content analysis studies of the news can help media advocacy become more effective in regard to CSA. Scholars should continue their research in this area, building on previous work and integrating both theory and methodology across disciplines. In order to increase support for CSA prevention programs and policies, advocates, scientists, and social scientists should combine and integrate perspectives with the goal of influencing individual and community decisions that improve health.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This article is the product of a graduate-level literature review course taught by Dr. Keith Kenney, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, University of South Carolina.

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AUTHOR NOTE Jane Long Weatherred, MA, is a recent graduate of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina. She received her bachelor’s degree in political science at Hollins University, Roanoke, Virginia, in 1987. Her current research interests are child sexual abuse, media, health communication, and public policy.

Child sexual abuse and the media: a literature review.

The media play an important role in practice, policy, and public perception of child sexual abuse, in part by the way in which news stories are framed...
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