Q&A with Take Back the News
Emily, founder of Take Back the News, has graciously answered a few questions for us. Founded in 2001 as a print project in a Boston newspaper, Take Back the News incorporated in 2005 and is focused on changing media representation of rape and sexual assault. Their community print projects may be of particular interest to activist survivors.
What do you consider the key problems with the current media representation of rape to be?
The key problems with current media representation of rape fall into two categories: under-representation and misrepresentation. Obviously, underrepresentation means that sexual violence just does not get the media attention it deserves. Sexual assaults occur at epidemic rates and yet so few assaults are covered in any mainstream media. Nor do we ever see comprehensive coverage of the crisis of sexual violence and all of the amazing actions that activists, public health advocates, feminists, and service providers are taking to support survivors and prevent future attacks. In terms of misrepresentation, the biggest issues are probably still victim blaming, sensationalism, and perpetuation of rape myths especially as they relate to issues of race and class as well as gender. We have a list of other forms of mis and underrepresentation on the Take Back The News website at this link.
You started Take Back the News in 2001. What improvements in media representation of rape have you seen since you began?
Not nearly enough! However, we do see more feminist perspectives being represented (slowly but surely) in mainstream media - even if only in the form of feminists invited onto news shows to be grilled/attacked by conservative pundits. We still need more opportunities for feminist voices on mainstream tv news, on the op/ed pages of major papers, and in all other forms of mainstream media. There are amazing organizations working to make this happen, and amazing individuals working tirelessly to have their feminist perspectives heard loud and clear. I also see an ever-increasing amount of amazing alternative media covering sexual violence and the activism that works to end it.
When you find a misrepresentation of rape in the media or one is reported to you, what actions do you typically take?
Well, it depends. If I notice an article in my local paper that misrepresents a rape in a typical way - for instance by referring to the rape of a child as "sex with" the child - I will generally write a letter to the editor as an individual. If there is a more heinous or widespread media misrepresentation of rape, as with Cosmo's "gray rape" article, I will work to mobilize as many people as possible to respond to the publication - through letters and/or op-eds and phonecalls.
What has the response from editors/the media been like?
The response has been mixed. Some editors and media ignore us. Some respond curtly. Some are really grateful for the feedback. Some publish our letters. Some open up dialog with us. Our goal is never to antagonize, and so dialog with reporters and editors is very welcome.
Do you focus mainly on American news? Do you see any difference in representation of rape in the media internationally?
We do focus solely on American news, though from what I have seen, there are similar problems across the globe when it comes to accurately representing sexual violence in the media.
Your community projects are a great way for people to get involved. How many do you usually have going at a time? What feedback have you received from project organizers?
Typically we have a few community projects each spring and fall. Project organizers consistently give us incredible feedback. The community print projects have a powerful impact on the people in the communities where they occur and organizers see this firsthand. The projects are also really liberating for survivors, and we get a lot of feedback about the healing that occurs around these projects.
What do you consider the greatest achievement of Take Back the News?
I think it's a huge achievement that the board of directors and I have sustained the projects and continue to create new projects after all these years, while also holding full-time jobs and having fulfilling personal and creative lives. Also, our collaboration with The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault has been really productive in terms of training local media activists.
What recommendations would you make to survivors who want to take action against media misrepresentation of rape?
Let the media hear your voice! When you see an article or television spot that you find offensive, let the editors/networks know. Of course, keeping a professional, intelligent tone in a concise communication is generally best received. But really, the trick is to get your message out there - even if you can only muster up a sentence at the time - send that sentence off! There's info at takebackthenews.org that can help you compose effective letters to editors as well.
What advice would you give to survivors who have been asked to share their stories for the media?
Just be careful. Remember that you will likely not be represented by others as you would choose to represent yourself. Remember that it is your absolute right to remain anonymous, and to refuse to speak to the media. If you do choose to share your story with the media, definitely try to develop a relationship with an editor or reporter that you trust. And remember that there are feminists and survivors everywhere that support you.
If you would like to suggest a Q&A with an activist organization working to raise awareness and end sexual violence, please contact us!