New Guide for Journalists Reporting on Campus Sexual Assault Ignores Accuracy, Objectivity

Ashe Schow
November 3, 2014

Know Your IX, an organization dedicated to ending campus sexual violence (a worthy goal), has a new guide out for journalists and editors describing how to write about the problem.

Unfortunately, the guide enshrines the “guilty until proven innocent” mentality that is currently permeating college campuses. For example, the guide says not to use accurate terms such as “accuser” and “accused” and instead urges journalists to pre-judge the situation.

“[D]on’t refer to the survivor as ‘the accuser’ and the perpetrator as ‘the accused,’ as ‘accuser’ carries negative connotations and grammatically places the action upon the survivor, rather than the rapist,” the guide says. “Instead, use more neutral language — if you have permission to use the survivor’s name, refer to the survivor by their name throughout. Otherwise, use descriptors such as ‘the survivor’ or ‘the student,’ or consider using a pseudonym.”

The guide further notes that Title IX, the law that has been reinterpreted in recent years to allow colleges and universities act as investigator, prosecutor, judge, jury and appellate in sexual assault cases, “is about civil rights, not criminal justice.”

Rape and sexual assault are crimes that deserve a fair hearing, but KYIX cares less about actual justice and more about automatically believing every accuser and labeling the accused as rapists.

In a separate guide, KYIX says that because rape and sexual could lead to a trial and the acquittal of the accused, schools should have the ability to step in.

“Schools, unlike the criminal justice system, are in the position to suspend or expel offenders quickly to ensure a safe campus; if they had to rely on the criminal justice system to try the case, the college would have to wait years for the assailant to be taken to prison (which only happens in three in 100 rapes),” the guide says. “If you don’t want rapists on campus, we need schools to be able to figure out if violence occurred and take action.”

A Q&A on the second guide answers questions about why the criminal justice system alone shouldn’t handle rapes and sexual assaults by saying the crimes are “too serious to leave to a faulty” system.

The separate guide also claims that Title IX actually protects the rights of the accused “by establishing guidelines for adjudication more rigorous than a typical disciplinary hearing for student conduct violations.”

Of course, that’s not true, as pressure from the Department of Education incentivizes schools to find the accused guilty through an unfair process masquerading as thorough.

There is some good in the guide for journalists that doesn’t focus on throwing away objectivity. The guide points out a need to focus not just on white women at “elite” universities reporting rape and sexual assault.

In a bulleted list, the guide notes that LGBTQ people and minority women are more likely to experience sexual violence, that violence occurs at many types of colleges and that there are other kinds abuse than rape and sexual assault.

Overall, the guide is pushing the same attitude toward campus sexual assault that has led dozens of young men to sue their universities for discrimination.