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Writing Rape: Women’s Media Center study finds crucial gap in coverage by gender

newspaperMedia coverage of U.S. campus rape and sexualized violence is significantly skewed toward the bylines and voices of men, according to a Women’s Media Center report released today.

The study found that men wrote 55 percent of sexual assault stories while women wrote only 31 percent. (Another 14 percent of the stories did not contain bylines.) The yearlong study looked at 12 major print outlets from 2014-2015 and showed that 48 percent of the quotes in these stories were from men, while 32 percent were from women. (An additional 11 percent were from organizations and 10 percent from sources whose gender was unknown.) The gender disparity is even more glaring in sports stories referencing sexual assault or in stories written by sports reporters — eight of 12 news outlets had zero bylines by women.

“We commissioned this research because of a critical need for greater nuance and sensitivity in reporting about women’s stories of rape in print media,” said Julie Burton, president of the Women’s Media Center. “This study is a chance for U.S. media to take a hard look at where they stand on this kind of reporting and figure out how they plan to move forward in a more equitable way.”

The Women’s Media Center examined the gender of reporters and sources, and the topic focus from 940 articles (news stories, op-eds, columns, and editorials) on high school and college sexualized violence from these top-12 circulation U.S. newspapers and wire services for the period studied: The Associated Press, Chicago Sun-Times, The Denver Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, New York Post, The New York Times, Reuters, San Jose Mercury News, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

The research found that the writer’s gender appeared to affect how stories were told: Women journalists interviewed alleged victims more often than male journalists, and a higher proportion of women journalists wrote about the impact of the alleged attack on alleged victims: 40 percent of women journalists covered this versus 33 percent of male journalists. On the other hand, a higher proportion of male journalists used quotes about the behavior of or impact on the alleged perpetrator than did female journalists — 35 percent versus 32 percent.

“This comprehensive Women’s Media Center report shows that women’s voices often are not reflected enough in how the media covers rape and rape culture on college and high school campuses,” said Lauren Embrey, chair of the Embrey Family Foundation, which funded the study along with the NoVo Foundation and Ford Foundation. “It is research that is not only necessary and important, but also rare.”

The full report is available here.

The Women’s Media Center commissioned Novetta (, a Virginia-based analytics research company, to carry out this study.

The Women’s Media Center, co-founded by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, and Gloria Steinem, works to make women visible and powerful in media. The Women’s Media Center trains women leaders to be in the media; promotes women experts to the media through WMC SheSource; conducts groundbreaking research and reporting on media inclusion and accuracy; features women’s voices and stories on our radio program “Women’s Media Center Live With Robin Morgan” and through WMC FeaturesWMC FBombWMC Speech Project, and WMC Women Under Siege.