Silence Is the Enemy: Commonly Appearing News Frames of Sexual Violence

Several science bloggers this month are spotlighting sexual violence as a social problem and the Scienceblogs portal has jumped on board. The focus is mostly on international cases but it's important to also think about how sexual violence is framed and addressed here in the U.S.

This past semester, Katherine Broendel, one of my graduate students here at AU, reviewed studies of how sexual violence is framed in news coverage and public discourse, synthesizing this research to come up with a generalizable typology of commonly appearing frames and interpretations. These frames are important since each suggests the nature or root of the problem, who or what is responsible, and what should be done.

Below, from her thesis, are the frames that she identified. She then went on to use this typology to analyze news coverage over the past decade while also interviewing a range of DC-based advocacy groups regarding their communication strategies.

It's a fascinating thesis worth reading. If you would like a copy, drop a comment below with an email and I will ask Katherine to forward you an electronic version.


A Typology of Commonly Appearing Frames in News Coverage of Sexual Violence


Technical, Thematic focus
Media focuses primarily on the legal aspects of the sex crime, the legal definitions within the case, as well as statistics. There is little to no humanization or personalization in the story.

Virgin focus

The victim is the focus of media coverage and is portrayed as being innocent, vulnerable, or defenseless.

Whore focus
The victim is portrayed as a whore-like figure who is presented as looking or behaving in a promiscuous manner. This frame includes the victim-blaming frame, which places the blame on the victim for provoking the attack.

Perpetrator focus
Media coverage of the sex crime focuses on the perpetrator, their actions, motives, etc. rather than the victim.

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