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The media plays an important role in how our communities view sensitive topics. The resources below make it easy to find best practices on reporting these topics in one place. The goal is ultimately to lower stigma and create safer communities.
As a member of the media, you know firsthand that language and the meanings attached to words often impact, influence, and change the attitudes toward the subjects of discussion. Even with the best intentions, word choices can inadvertently perpetuate stereotyping and discrimination. Conversely, the words you chose can help tell your story in a manner that illuminates and creates greater understanding of the topics below, and by doing so, make it more likely people in need of support will seek help.
Avoid lurid details or "click-bait" headlines. For instance, writing that someone was raped is using accurate language; going into specific details of the rape is a sensationalist approach.
Always include at least one resource people can reach out to if they need support dealing with the topic. We have included local resources for each topic. You can always include the blurb below, as our crisis line helps people access resources across the UP.
Reach out to Dial Help's 24/7 crisis line for support and referrals by calling 906-482-HELP(4357) or 800-562-7622, texting 906NEEDS (906-356-3337) or chatting at www.dialhelp.org
It may be helpful to connect with local professionals familiar with the topic you're reporting on for additional information, quotes, etc. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to request contact information for professionals in the fields below.
Downloads are available beneath each block of information
Person-first language emphasizes people rather than their diagnosis or condition. For example, saying "a person with schizophrenia" instead of "a schizophrenic," or "people with a mental illness" instead of "the mentally ill." It takes a few extra syllables, but humanizes mental illness by placing the focus on the person who is living with a health condition. Terms such as psycho or crazy should not be used. In addition, avoid words like “suffering” or “victim” when discussing those with mental health challenges.
For instance, many people believe individuals with a mental illness are more likely to be violent toward others. However, people with mental illnesses are no more likely to be violent than those without a mental health disorder. In fact, those with mental illness are 10 times more likely to be the victims of violent crime (per Arch Gen Psychiatry).
Certain phrases and words can further stigmatize suicide, spread myths, and undermine suicide prevention objectives. Do not refer to suicide as “successful,” “unsuccessful,” or a “failed attempt.” Do not use the term “committed suicide,” as this frames suicide as a crime. Instead use “died by suicide,” “completed suicide,” “killed him/herself,” or “ended his/her life.”
For someone already considering suicide, it’s possible to change their thoughts into action by exposing them to detailed suicide-related content. This includes graphic depictions or descriptions of the death, or revealing the method used. For instance, when Robin Williams died by suicide in 2014, suicides using the same method increased by 32% in the months following.
Substance use disorder (also known as addiction) is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain -- they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long-lasting, and can lead to the harmful behaviors typically seen in individuals who are addicted to drugs. No one is immune to addiction, but trauma is often a contributing factor. Many people still consider addiction a moral failing or lack of willpower, and this stigma makes it less likely that people with addiction will reach out for treatment or other help.
As discussed above, person-first language places emphasis on people rather than their diagnosis or condition. It can shift the way people with substance use disorders are viewed. For instance, saying “person with addiction" or "person with a substance use disorder” instead of “addict" -- describing someone as an “addict” frames the disease as a negative characteristic of the individual and brings moral judgment. By using person-first language, an individual is no longer defined by their condition. The person is placed first with the condition being secondary, which helps to eliminate stereotypes and biases.
Even if the victim is not named in the story, sharing details like their age, gender, school, relationship to the perpetrator, occupation of the perpetrator, location of the abuse, or the perpetrator’s full name can just as easily identify them. Consider what information is necessary and relevant to the public and in the interest of public safety, and what you can do to avoid or minimize harm to the victim.
We encourage all media to use the term "child sexual abuse material" instead of "child pornography." Pornography is a term defined as adults engaging in erotic behavior in pictures, video, and/or writing, intended to cause sexual excitement. When children are involved, it’s not pornography. The term "pornography" also conjures images of children posing in provocative positions, rather than suffering horrific sexual abuse. Although "child pornography" is still a legal term in use, "child sexual abuse material" is more accurate.
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To portray sexual violence accurately, it is important to use language that does not place blame on victims. Including details such as a victim's clothing, sexual past, or drug/alcohol intake shifts the blame away from where it belongs -- on the perpetrator. Including information on how women and girls can avoid being assaulted puts the burden on victims not to be assaulted instead of addressing the issues that lead perpetrators to commit sexual violence. In addition, although women are victimized at a much higher rate then men, there are male sexual violence victims and these cases should not be trivialized. One major reason men don't come forward is that male victimization is often not taken seriously.
Writing about solutions, especially prevention strategies, can help shift perceptions of sexual violence. Examples of effective prevention strategies include teaching relationship skills to adolescents, bystander training, and improving safety and monitoring in schools. Focusing on sexual violence rates, prevention, and causes helps dispel the myth that sexual violence is a random inevitability. Discuss the consequences of sexual violence on victims, families, perpetrators, and community. Help the audience see beyond criminal justice and understand that sexual violence is also a public health issue.