Category Archives: Media

Our Reporter’s Toolkit in the News…

Claudia Garcia Rojas, former coordinator and current volunteer with the Taskforce, has an op-ed in Policymic today. She shares some of the lessons she learned while researching our media toolkit titled Reporting on Rape and Sexual Violence: A Media Toolkit for Local and National Journalists to Better Media Coverage.

She writes:

During my time as Coordinator of the Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls & Young Women, I spent approximately a year researching rape and sexual violence reporting trends for the production of a media toolkit titled Reporting on Rape and Sexual Violence: A Media Toolkit for Local and National Journalists to Better Media Coverage.

On a spreadsheet, I compiled what those of us who do advocacy work would deem “bad” stories in one column, and “good” stories in another.

Bad stories are those where the reporter employs victim-blaming statements (from the New York Times: “She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some say”), witness testimonies that are one-sided (from ABC 20/20: “She had her arm wrapped around me and one hand on my chest. It just felt like she was coming on to me”), and superfluous details that shame the victim (from the New York Times: “They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s”). A bad story lacks accuracy, fairness, and objectivity.

On the other hand, a good story is written from an objective or trauma-informed angle. It’s the kind of story where a reporter opts for accurate language instead of opting for provocative words. Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams affirms this, writing “When the media uses the word ‘sex’ within a story about something where there are alleged victims of assault, it’s a semantic failure on an epic scale. It diminishes crime. It sensationalizes it. It removes the distinction between a normal, consensual act and violence. Sure, you could say that sex is an element of those stories. But you’d be missing the part about force and pathology.”

Read the rest here.

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Posted by on April 30, 2013 in Media, Sexual assault, Violence


New Resource: Media Toolkit for Local and National Journalists

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                  October 24, 2012


Contact: Claudia Garcia –Rojas:

CHICAGO:  The Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls and Young Women publishes a Media Toolkit to disseminate to members of the press. Reporting on Rape and Sexual Violence: A Media Toolkit for Local and National Journalists To Better Media Coverage addresses common issues stemming from how media currently structures news around rape and sexual violence, and how journalists can better report on these issues. The Toolkit provides concrete facts about the problem of violence against girls and young women; suggestions about issues to be covered regarding violence against girls, including the Taskforce’s recommendations of use of language, ways to end violence, and information about key organizations. This Toolkit is not only necessary for helping address the ever-deepening stigma around rape and sexual violence, but a critical and timely resource to address the pervasiveness of rape culture in society. Mariame Kaba, Co-Founder of The Chicago Taskforce states, “Media portrayals about sexual and domestic violence in the lives of young women contribute to raising public consciousness about these serious and important issues.  It is important that these portrayals be accurate and well-informed.  We believe that this toolkit will help to inform those who are responsible for telling these stories.”

Sharmili Majmudar, Executive Director of Rape Victim Advocates adds that,  “One of the results of recent attention in the media on sexual violence is a greater opportunity to have a public dialogue and replace often victim-blaming myths with education.  However, if the reporting itself is inadvertently based on those myths, not only is the opportunity lost, but the victim-blaming continues unchecked and the public remains uninformed.

Through our work at Rape Victim Advocates, we see how language is crucial in creating and sometimes reinforcing decades-old cultural beliefs about sexual violence.  This Toolkit provides timely, easy to use guidelines that allow journalists to honor their ethical obligation to be unbiased and write with accurate language about sexual violence, whether they are a crime beat reporter or an investigative journalist.”

The Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls & Young Women was founded to develop a comprehensive, citywide approach to ending violence against girls. Established in fall 2009, the Taskforce unites stakeholders from across Chicago to address the question: What conditions need to exist locally and statewide to end violence against girls and young women?

The Taskforce has become a central space to bring together practitioners and policy advocates with the goal of developing a comprehensive strategy to end violence against girls and young women.   The Taskforce has released papers and data analyses to develop the field and draw attention to the issue, brought together hundreds of organizational representatives in discussions, raised the issue with public officials such as the Cook County Women’s Commission, and begun to build a stronger infrastructure for supporting girls’ safety in Chicago. Additional data analyses and reports can be found at

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Posted by on October 24, 2012 in Media, Resources, Violence


What do YOU think about media coverage of gender-based violence?

Have you been frustrated with media coverage of the issue of violence against girls & young women?

Are there facts you think the press should know? Ways you think the issue should be framed?

Or are there journalists and news outlets that you think have done a great job, and should be considered a model for reporting?

This is your chance to share your input as we create a Media Toolkit to suggest ways that news outlets can better cover the issue of violence against girls & young women.  Please fill out this survey by November 30!

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Posted by on November 14, 2011 in Media


3 things that might surprise you about Slutwalk Chicago

Slutwalk Chicago came to town yesterday and it was great!  Here are 3 facts that might surprise you about the event and the Slutwalk movement.  These three facts have been underreported – and in some cases even twisted – by the mainstream media.

1.  Slutwalk wasn’t (mostly) about sluts. 

There were certainly women with signs saying “slut” and dressed in provocative clothing – and more power to them!  It was great to see women so comfortable in their own skin, reclaiming the street.

But don’t believe the media hype, or the carefully selected media images, suggesting that the march consisted of 2,000 women in lingerie.  Most of the marchers were wearing everyday clothing, of all varieties, reflecting their individual identities and personal styles.  The overall message was to put an end to victim-blaming, no matter what survivors are wearing.

2. Men were a central part of Slutwalk Chicago. 

Men marched on their own, with their girlfriends, with their boyfriends, and in groups.  Men worked as volunteers along the route to support the marchers.  They cheered and chanted, they held signs saying “An injury to one is an injury to all” and “Fight for a World Without Sexism.”

This was one of the most moving and underreported aspects of the march – to see men out on the streets demanding an end to violence against women is a huge shift in a movement that has long alienated male allies.

We in the anti-violence movement need to embrace this change, and to further encourage male allies to organize workshops, rallies and other events to speak out against violence.

3. It’s time for the anti-violence movement to listen to younger women, who have developed important new messaging. 

If you think an anti-violence march only has the message of “end violence,” then listen up: this march aimed to promote positive sexuality that is consensual and free from violence.  Posters like “Wow, I like sex so so much when it’s consensual!” send an important message that many younger women in the movement have embraced.

You hear it from groups like SHEER (Sexual Health Education to End Rape), a group that has partnered with many organizations in Chicago, including the Taskforce, to build a new sex-positive anti-violence movement.  In their own words, SHEER is

a survivor centered, sex positive, pro-consent coalition formed to prevent sexual assault, abuse, harassment and victim blaming and to address myths about rape by promoting an affirmative consent standard as the cornerstone of healthy sexual interactions. An affirmative consent standard calls for the use of enthusiastic consent that is active, mutual and ongoing throughout a sexual encounter.

This new messaging is helping to shape the movement going forward, and it was displayed in full force at Slutwalk Chicago.


Press release: No Justice for Victims of Police Sexual Violence

For Immediate Release

No Justice for Victims of Police Sexual Violence

Tiawanda Moore court date set for June 8, activists demand justice

The Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls & Young Women is calling on State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to drop the criminal charges against Tiawanda Moore. Ms. Moore is a young woman who reported that she had been sexually assaulted by a police officer in July of 2010, and was then herself charged with eavesdropping on police.  According to her attorney, Robert Johnson, when she tried to report the assault, internal affairs “gave her the run-around, trying to intimidate and discourage her from making a report. The internal affairs officers told Ms. Moore if it happens again you have our number. Finally, a recording of the officer’s misconduct is made on her cell phone.”  She was charged with two counts of eavesdropping – and if found guilty, will face up to fifteen years in prison.

Ms. Moore has been awaiting trial since her initial scheduled trial date of February 7. The next court date is scheduled for June 8 on which Judge Kevin M. Sheehan will decided what documents from the Independent Police Review Authority’s investigation will be released to the parties.

Describing the injustice facing his client, Mr. Johnson stated, “Ms. Moore reports an attack by a police officer in her bedroom and almost a year later she is facing prison and he is still patrolling our streets. Listening to that recording makes me wonder where future victims will get the courage to report sexual misconduct by a police officer.”

Ms. Moore’s case comes in the wake of local and national headlines, as a series of women have reported that they were sexually assaulted by police officers.  In New York, on May 26, the acquittal of two police officers for alleged rape of a woman drew protests from local organizations, who pointed to the victim-blaming inherent in the defense’s winning argument that the woman had been drinking.  Here in Chicago, officers Paul Clavijo and Juan Vasquez were indicted on June 1 for sexual assault, for an alleged rape of a 22-year old woman in Rogers Park in March.  According to reports, Clavijo was charged with a second count of criminal sexual assault and official misconduct for an unrelated incident involving a 26-year old woman, which also took place in March.

Local activists have urged the State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to drop the criminal charges and expedite the investigation into Ms. Moore’s allegations against the police.  The Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls & Young Women, a citywide coalition founded in 2009, launched an online petition on that has drawn over 2,100 signatures.  The State’s Attorney has not responded to these demands.

According to Taskforce co-founder Melissa Spatz, “cases like this have a chilling effect on women’s willingness to come forward and report if they have been sexually assaulted by police officers.  It’s crucial that the city send a clear message that sexual assault of young women will not be tolerated.”   Co-founder Mariame Kaba adds, “We at the Taskforce recognize the deep injustice of this case, and we demand immediate accountability from the State’s Attorney.”

Contacts: Melissa Spatz (773)454-0366

Mariame Kaba (773)392-5165

Robert Johnson (773)485-2267


Tools For Working With Youth #2: Engaging Conversations about Masculinity & Femininity

I grew up in New York City loving rap music. I was blessed to become a fan of the music at a time when women like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Monie Love, and others were central to hip hop culture. I could see myself at least partially represented in their music and personas.

Rap music is only a part of hip hop culture but it is the most visible and commercialized part. As such, it deserves special scrutiny in terms of its influence on our culture and on the young people who consume it. The case that I want to make here is that it is extremely challenging today to develop a healthy gender identity for young people who uncritically consume rap music and images. Some of the key features of contemporary rap include:

1. the overrepresentation of women as sex objects. Sex is usually shown as a commodity.
2. the overrepresentation of women as male adornments.
3. the overrepresentation of men as power brokers.
4. the growing relationship and association between the sex industry and hip hop [for example, the glamorization of so-called pimping by artists like Snoop Dog and 50 cent].

Consuming a steady diet of these representations surely distorts young people’s understanding of themselves as men and as women. We cannot ignore how this contributes to violence against girls and young women. Last year, I come across a TED talk by Tony Porter from A Call to Men addressing his own personal journey in struggling to define a healthy masculinity. As part of our ongoing series to share resources and tools that can be useful in our work with youth to address violence in their lives, I think that this video should be required viewing for young men and women in our violence prevention programs.

Finally, another useful resource to engage youth in conversations about how hip hop culture can influence their self-image is Brigitte Gray’s spoken word piece titled “My Letter to Hip Hop.” This piece can be a great starting point for encouraging young people to write their own letter to hip hop.

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Posted by on March 11, 2011 in Art & violence, Hip Hop, Media, Violence


Losing the Struggle against Gender-based Violence to Kanye West…

Today my goddaughter excitedly told me that Kanye West released the video for his latest song “All of the Lights” on youtube. She told me that I had to see it because it was “brilliant” (her words).

After our phone conversation, I went to my computer to see the video. As a long-time rap music fan, I had to agree that the song itself is indeed brilliant. West has created a symphony, melding together dozens of sounds and voices. I would defy anyone who is a fan of rap music not to appreciate the sonic beauty of this song.

Then there are the actual lyrics to the song. Here are a few lines:

I slapped my girl, she called the feds
I did that time and spent that bread
I’m heading home, I’m almost there
I’m on my way, heading up the stairs
to my surprise, a n-gga replacing me
I had to take ’em to that ghetto university

Once again, we have a song that is already a big hit and will only become a greater one now that the video has been released addressing the very serious of issue of domestic violence. In the song, Kanye has hit his girlfriend. She calls the police. He goes to prison and pays a fine. Then he returns home, presumably after spending time behind bars, to find his former girlfriend in bed with a new person. He reacts violently to this, continuing the cycle of violence. What message is Kanye intending to send with this verse? That he went to prison but learned nothing while inside? [Which would actually be an accurate portrayal given the reality that prison only creates better prisoners.] Is he making the point that violence is justified if your ex-girlfriend has a new partner? What exactly are these lyrics implying?

Here is another verse of the song:

Restraining order
can’t see my daughter
her mother, brother, grandmother hate me in that order
public visitation
we met at Borders
told her she take me back
I’ll be more supportive
I made mistakes
I bump my head
courts suck me dry
I spent that bread
she need a daddy
baby please, can’t let her grow up in that ghetto university

Any of you reading this who have had experience with domestic violence will recognize the “honeymoon phase” of the cycle of violence in the lyrics quoted above. Kanye is telling his ex-girlfriend that he has “made mistakes” and is begging to be taken back so that he can be a father to his daughter. However concurrently, he also informs the audience that “courts suck [him] dry.” Presumably, he is pissed off about having to pay child support for the daughter that he doesn’t want to let “grow up in that ghetto university.” Pulsing underneath these lyrics is the constant threat and possibility of violence.

As of today, the video for the song has already received over 800,000 views. That is in just one day since the video was posted on youtube. How can any of the messages that we as anti-violence educators and organizers offer have even half the reach of this song and video? The reality is that we are being completely drowned out by the power and reach of popular culture messages about gender-based and other forms of violence. Until we are able to gain new allies in that world and can respond with equally powerful and “brilliant” counter-messages, I fear that we are just continuing to swim upstream against the current. This, it seems to me, is the great challenge of anti-violence work in the 21st century.

Here is the video for the song:


Posted by on February 20, 2011 in Art & violence, Incarceration, Media, Violence