Addressing Media Responses to Sexual Assault

*Please Note the Following Statement*

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'On behalf of the Virgin Islands Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Council (DVSAC) as well as survivors of rape and sexual assault, I am disappointed to learn that the private details of a victim - including the relationship to the perpetrator, children's ages and detailed accounts of the sexual assault process- were published by the V.I. Consortium this week.

Like a coffin that is opened for a viewing, the breach of privacy and lens of criticism that this story has entertained will leave the victim and their family exposed to a culture of rape that is unapologetic with condemnation, blame and misunderstanding. They will be re-victimized by the removal of trust for the community and now the media - a medium that is to serve as a vessel for truth and accuracy notwithstanding the weight of privacy and safety for victims, particularly those of sex crimes. Unlike a coffin with a deceased soul, however, the victim and their family are still alive. They are alive to hear the comments, see the screenshots and feel the pain that is triggered by betrayal of a media outlet that is entrusted with information for the purpose of educating the public about facts rather than sensationalizing the lives of real people, with real trauma and real issues that need to be supported instead of distracted by poor judgment. The impact of this instantaneous decision to press 'send' will have an everlasting impact on the victim and their family as they must now balance the crime with the feeling of being 'nude' for a figurative public stoning in a community whose response to rape and sexual assault can often be suffocating.

Though this message does not serve to ostracize the V.I. Consortium or the media in general, DVSAC, as a Territorial Coalition on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, must recognize when the media engages in re-victimization, hyper-reporting and/or pro-exploitation approaches which are detrimental to victims. With a mission to 'promote programs and activities whose purposes are to improve the response of the legal system, service providers, and the media to our issues...', we simply cannot remain silent about the response to this incident. The V.I. Consortium and its media counterparts must be held accountable to a code of ethics that are to uphold Journalism to the same high standard that is expected of leadership and influencers in our community. Publishing a story that does not prioritize victim privacy and autonomy is nothing short of thoughtless but it is also a liability for the victim, their family, and of course, the publication.

When addressing domestic violence and sexual assault, journalism is a field of privilege - not one of entitlement. Journalists, nor the community, are 'entitled' to the details of any victim's story and I am sure they would agree if they were to log on to any social media account, only to find confidential information about themselves revealed for the world to see (especially a sexual assault!). Though I acknowledge that the story was revamped, I also recognize that this story will forever remain in the veins of technological history whether through screen shots, text messages or otherwise, and therefore cannot be ignored. DVSAC is of the opinion, that at least, The V.I. Consortium should acquiesce to a public apology to the victim and their family. They have gotten many stories right and in fact, have been very prompt in raising awareness on sexual assault issues, events and so on; but in this case, they are wrong. As such, a public apology - while not an equitable repayment for this error - will serve as an example of accountability, remorse, sensitivity and an intent to commit to ethical journalism moving forward as there is an extended journey ahead of regaining trust from rape/sexual assault survivors and the community.

Though disappointing, let this action serve as a learning opportunity to all media on the importance of abiding by a Journalism Code of Ethics. For a direct resource, please see: For more information on appropriate media responses to rape and sexual assault cases and/or to request a media training, please contact DVSAC at If you are a victim of domestic violence and/or sexual assault please contact the Women's Coalition of St. Croix at (340) 773-9272 or the Family Resource Center of St. Thomas/St. John at (340) 776-3966. ' - Khnuma Simmonds-Esannason, Executive Director

#sexualassault #rape #domesticviolence #virginislands #usvi #media #community

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