The Blurred Lines Of Journalistic Integrity, Ethics With Rape Survivors

She kept her cobalt blue eyes focused on that fluffy white cloud that looked like a dinosaur. Or maybe it looked like a dragon. Wait, no, it definitely looked like the crooked arm of T-Rex. Yes, T-Rex. She focused with intent on T-Rex as her cornflower blonde hair bounced in the shadow of the afternoon sun; she clamped her mouth tighter and tighter because she knew if she screamed the man would just make it harder for her. He would penetrate her harder. He would start slapping her harder. He would start grabbing her thin wrists harder and then Momma would know. 

Momma would know and then she would hate her. It’s what the man said, momma would find out and banish her into the streets to fend for herself. She heard his loud groans and she knew that disgusting, vile sound all too well. It would be over soon enough and then she could fight those tears of injustice welling in her eyes and pretend this didn’t happen.

Until next week.

Yes, that cloud is definitely the arm of T-Rex.


Yesterday, I had the misfortune of reading a BuzzFeed article (I won’t link, but you can google it) which by appearances only seemed like it was doing an honorable thing bringing attention to the brave warriors of rape. Without knowing any of the back-story that prompted such a conversation on social media, it would appear as if  this journalist was doing a noble thing bringing honor to countless rape survivors with integrity and ethics.

Until you hear how the conversation was facilitated by someone who understands my own pain – a fellow rape survivor. You dig into this story and find out this brave and articulate woman started a conversation like no other that I have ever observed or read about on any social media outlet. Ever.

Then you realize, how blurred the lines are of journalistic integrity and ethics.

You “read” the Buzzfeed article and realize, it’s a glorified list of screenshots.

This doesn’t fit into MY standard of how a journalist should respond to rape survivors and them feeling comfortable to talk — many for the very first time. To make matters worse, the article in question had “attempted” to ask permission from the aforementioned conversation facilitator, but decided to publish anyways when they didn’t get a response. Could it have been, that she was more preoccupied with sharing a series of moments with fellow rape survivors than caring about the internet vultures intent to use her popularity to get some additional views and clicks???

These two paragraphs from HERE sums it up very nicely:

When Steen and Testa finally talked, Testa would echo what most of her supporters–themselves media salarymen–were saying: Twitter is a public platform, and thus these tweets were fair game. “The victims’ stories don’t belong to you or Twitter,” she told Steen. Buzzfeed brass (and a number of employees) agreed. Even Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan weighed in with a condescending post, complete with links to tweets from various people who took issue with Testa and Buzzfeed. Ironically, a Daily Dot writer who wrote about the ethical pitfalls of  using tweets didn’t bother giving me a heads-up about using one of mine.

But the real issue isn’t so much about Twitter being a public space; it’s about the absolute lack of empathy, sensitivity, and thoroughness when it comes to covering stories like these and the flippant, snarky responses that come from media outlets after the inevitable fallout. Testa’s quest to be the first to break the story alienated a number of people and did irrevocable damage not only to Buzzfeed’s brand, but the public’s trust. Some expressed relief that they didn’t share their survivor stories out of fear they’d become troll fodder. Testa didn’t take into account Steen’s safety or comfort, potentially exposing her to trolls and other unsavory characters.

Of course, Twitter is a public forum and cases can be made that what Testa, Gawker, and other media entities did was completely legal.

Legal isn’t mutually exclusive with being ethical.

It seems many people had a different running definition of integrity and ethics in lieu of professional journalism, so I am referencing The Society of Professional Journalists, SPJ, Code of Ethics. 

Minimizing Harm: SPJ is very clear about this: Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.

Be Accountable: Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.

Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.

Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief(Note: It’s of my opinion, this was THE biggest downfall for the Buzzfeed article and a litany of others).

And finally:

Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.

There was this article that was just as bad as Buzzfeed, if not worse, that misrepresented the original facilitator of this important conversation.

Many on Twitter rose up and pointed out that Twitter is public, which is true. And while there is a widely accepted guideline in journalism that you don’t identify rape victims without their permission, @steenfox does not identify herself as a survivor and neither does Testa. She is only identified as the one who posed the question.

Again, another pseudo journalist who is putting out quick content for page hits and the biggest inaccuracy in her article is the fact that the OP didn’t identify her as a survivor. When, in fact, that was a driving catalyst for the conversation, not to mention, she paints her as a angry, black woman who was just striving for media attention and is angry when the focus is taken off of her.

I’ve never been so disgusted with journalists and their lack of awareness than I am at this moment. The original OP was gracious, compassionate, and tender enough – from what I have observed and read – with all these survivors that gave them an opportunity to speak out – many for the first time – about their own survivorship. The OP gave them a safe place with anonymity and somehow that was lost in these horrendous pieces of journalism.

More importantly, she wasn’t offered the same respect that some of the other consenting survivors were. She is me. She is my little niece that was sexually violated when she was two. She is my mother, who was raped at 19. She is me when my youth pastor tried to violate me. She is all the rape survivors out there.

And that’s what is being lost.

Their bravery and courage was lost in the muck and mire of a journalistic crapshoot.

However, at the very least – despite the lack of ethics displayed by Testa – Buzzfeed’s article has opened up conversations within the community. I can’t say the same for the Poynter article – which displayed musings of a privileged ignoramus.

Again, you can say that Twitter is a public entity and everything posted there is fair game, but that’s a freakin’ copout. Plain and simple. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize the article in question was riddled with laziness, self-promotion, and a greater need for site clicks over something that should never be treated as a virtual currency.

My rape  is not for anyone to monetize. No one. Unless you keep in tact the sensitivity of what has happened to me and countless other survivors while adhering to your journalistic code of conduct.

Testa had the PERFECT opportunity to obtain permission from a few of the survivors that shared her story and write a sensitive, though-provoking, and highly emotive article that has affected more women than I can count. She could have spent more than, what I assume was one hour, embedding tweets.

She could have put together an online literature masterpiece documenting the rape culture, the suriviors, and how devastating it is to go through this experience.

She could have withstood the need for virtual currency in way of site clicks, and demonstrated journalistic integrity and ethics when she handled the very sensitive cases of all those involved.

Instead, Testa opted for an easy way to receive virtual currency and justified her lack of journalism via other money-mongering lackadaisical journalists.

The blurred lines of journalistic integrity and ethics have never been more apparent than they are now.


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