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November 12, 2009

Reporting and Writing on Sexual Violence

This week, I'm taking some time off from the daily grind of Seven Days reporting to spend a few days in Boston with fellow New England journalists and advocates who work with victims of sexual and domestic violence. The event is an all-expenses-paid training seminar entitled "Reporting and Writing on Sexual Violence." OK, so some people go golfing in their spare time, others pal around with Mickey Mouse and Goofy down in Orlando. Me? I'm learning a dozen new reasons to be stressed out about having just brought a baby girl into the world.

Our hosts and sponsors of this event — the nonprofit Poynter Institute and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center — have spared NO expense in bringing us here. Aside from covering all our transportation, meals, educational materials and miscellaneous expenses, they've put us up in one of Boston's swankiest hotels: the Intercontinental, right next door to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Think marble bathroom counters with separate shower and stand-alone tub, an HDTV the size of a twin bed and lights that turn on and off automatically. 

Some of my fellow 14 participants, who include Cathleen Wilson from the Women's Rape Crisis Center, Bianca Slota from WCAX-TV and Kristine Bickford from Chittenden County Children's Advocacy Center, are debating whether our expense vouchers will cover the sushi and tequila bar — sorry, sushi and tequila "experience" — in the hotel lobby. If our lavish reception dinner was any indication, I'm thinking, hola, José Cuervo!Our red-carpet accommodations are reflective of the level of instruction we're getting. Poynter and the NSCVRC have flown in experts from all over the country to discuss such issues as race and ethnicity in sex-crime reporting, myths and assumptions inherent in sexual violence statistics, and how simple and complex rape cases get investigated — or not.

The opening day was a mixed bag, with some interesting discussions about the differences and similarities between the core values of journalists versus those of victims' advocates: We both listen to and tell stories, reveal and solve problems, search for truths, educate, raise awareness, build community, etc. At times, I came away with far more questions than answers. For example, when one advocate noted that there's no standard profile that indicates who will be a sexual predator (aside from those who were themselves victims) Brian Ballou of the Boston Globe asked, "Does that mean that any if us could be one?" 

Thus far, the Tuesday presentation has been more relevant from a journalistic perspective: Keith Woods, the dean of faculty at Poynter and a former staffer at the New Orleans Times-Picayune, gave a very informative and compelling presentation on how race and ethnicity factor into sexual violence stories, and how the media often avoid the uncomfortable questions because they — we — don't know how to address questions of race and find its rightful place in a story. Can't wait for the afternoon session.

[Ed. note: Ken actually sent this on Tuesday, but some confusion on the editing side prevented it from being published until today. Sorry, Ken! Hope you enjoyed your sushi experience.]

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