Following Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s hearings last week, journalists shared their experience covering sexual assault cases at the timely EIJ18 Me Too panel and took a look into the world of representing victims.
Debra Adams Simmons, executive editor at National Geographic, moderated the panel with speakers Amy Brittain, an investigative reporter for the Washington Post, Anna North, senior reporter for Vox and Avi Kumin, an attorney from the firm representing Christine Blasey Ford.
Amy Brittain says that the most challenging part of reporting on the Me Too movement is quickly figuring out if the accused person’s behavior is a pattern. Brittain uncovered Charlie Rose’s sexual assault case. PBS suspended Rose within an hour of the article’s publication, and twenty-seven additional women came forward after the story was released.
When investigating on sexual assault cases, Anna North looks at the people who come forward to make allegations; highlight the voices of those who have come forward. She created a database with quotes of women who have come forward and the impact on those victims. North wants to emphasize the lesser known people and women who have had to put their lives on the line and risk everything to come forward.
Avi Kumin explains that “we didn’t know” is a popular legal defense by employers in a sexual assault case. Kumin looks for ways to overcome that defense. He says that clients don’t want to be public icons. Many just want to get help so that they can move on with their lives and careers.
Kumin says the media has been covering sexual assault cases like Blasey Ford’s well. “There’s certainly enough coverage,” said Kumin.
However, he said the “little stories” don’t get enough attention. He explained that many women don’t report sexual harassment within the workplace out of embarrassment, and that many women don’t want to put their careers at risk.
Anna North expanded on this idea. Many women of color, in particular, aren’t comfortable speaking out because of their job positions, she explained - and they feel like they don’t have the power to speak out without losing their jobs.
North also explained that the “little stories” don’t get enough coverage because a “bold-faced name” is missing. People want to hear about someone popular and someone in the spotlight, and many local cases don’t involve accusees who are on that level, she explained.
Anna North said that the Me Too movement is not exclusive to sexual assault cases, either, but can include any discriminatory act. North has covered stories on women who have faced pregnancy discriminations within the workplace, for example.
Moving forward, journalists covering Me Too can look beyond individual cases to explore the larger trends and systems of complicity within workplaces and schools.