by Brandon Mitchell, Caitlin Tapia and jesikah maria ross
CapRadio produced the After The Assault participatory journalism project to investigate what the aftermath of sexual violence is like for survivors by sharing power over how their stories are told. The collaborative reporting yielded insights by producing a podcast, radio features, talk show segments, web stories and digital guides. These centered on the experiences of eight diverse female survivors grappling with how healing can happen even when justice does not. The cohort of survivors was involved in every step of the editorial process.
Organization Background: CapRadio is an NPR member station based in Sacramento. Their mission is to provide a trusted and indispensable source of information, music, and entertainment while strengthening the civic and cultural life of the communities they serve.
Project Goals: After The Assault’s reporting team conducted deep listening activities to determine the goals of a cohort of survivors as well as the local law enforcement, legal institutions and non-profit organizations involved in responding to sexual assault. CapRadio adapted it’s participatory journalism principles to guide project design in this way:
- Inclusion and Co-Creation: CapRadio designed reporting processes and platforms to help stakeholders feel heard, inform the journalism and share solutions to issues in the sexual assault legal reporting process. The content produced is grounded in experiences that people care about and find useful.
- Public Service: The project provides a better understanding of the legal reporting process for sexual assault and how to navigate challenges brought on by the system in a way that supports survivor healing. This better understanding builds understanding and empathy from law enforcement and the general public for survivors’ needs and experiences, which leads to policy and practice change.
- Civic Infrastructure: This project provides more resources and stories for advocacy organizations to assist in advancing justice for survivors. The bridges built between community members by this project change the conversation around sexual assault. Instances of sexual assault in Sacramento County are handled in more trauma-informed ways.
- CapRadio collaborated with a cohort of eight sexual assault survivors and involved them throughout the editorial process.
- CapRadio likewise involved 18 representatives from area law enforcement and non-profit organizations, including police detectives, sergeants, district attorneys, crime lab staff, healthcare providers and rape crisis center advocates.
Tools & Technology: The seven-part After the Assault podcast is available on YouTube, Apple Podcasts and Spotify. The After the Assault Digital Guide to Reporting Sexual Assault in Sacramento County and Conversation Kit are available at on the project website.
- Participating stakeholders, from survivors to law enforcement to community advocates, reported that the project content was essential and practical.
- Participating survivors and listeners said they experienced healing and transformation through their experience with the podcast.
- CapRadio took time to understand all sides of the story, which built trust from law enforcement.
- The investigative experience fostered a co-creative process that honored the expertise of the survivors and the newsroom staff.
- Participating stakeholders reported that they felt empowered and motivated to act.
How it Happened
In the spring of 2019, Nick Miller, CapRadio’s Managing Editor of News, received an email from a Sacramento woman who experienced an “egregious” response from local law enforcement when she reported her rape incident. In an interview with Miller and lead reporter Sammy Caiola, she explained how damaging her interaction with the police had been. As far as she knew, her case was never investigated, and no arrests were made. She said in the interview that if CapRadio wanted to do the story right, they would need to give survivors agency over how the story is told.
- Senior Community Engagement Strategist and participatory journalism expert jesikah maria ross was appointed Project Director.
- In July of 2019, ross and participatory journalism fellow Erica Anderson organized a series of listening sessions with institutional stakeholders and survivors.
- The institutional stakeholder group identified issues with the legal reporting process and brainstormed solutions.
- The survivor group discussed the challenges of the legal reporting process for sexual assault and then said their main goal for a journalism project would be to change the process by sharing their stories publicly for the benefit of future survivors.
- The “survivor cohort” decided to meet regularly going into 2020, holding virtual sessions when COVID hit.
1. Survivors sharing power
The project was co-created with the survivors. In one of the first meetings of the survivor cohort, they discussed what issues they would like to see addressed and changed to better the experience of future victims. In doing so, they identified five priorities:
- The opportunity for survivors to share personal stories in ways that lead to social and policy change
- Personal healing and access to resources for ongoing self-care
- Increased understanding among the general public about the impacts of sexual violence and challenges in the legal reporting process
- Progress toward new, trauma-informed training for local law enforcement personnel that center the experiences of survivors
- Better ways for advocates to support survivors on their healing journey, including resources to help survivors understand the legal reporting process and to support survivors and their loved ones through the healing process.
These survivors were then involved in every step of the editorial process. Beyond identifying issues and proposing possible solutions, they annotated the podcast episodes and their descriptions, gave input on grant proposals and suggested questions for reporters to ask trauma experts and law enforcement.
2. Listening to learn and build trust
Reporters learned new roles and ways to relate to sources. They became conversation hosts and trusted collaborators on content. They learned and incorporated trauma-informed approaches in seeking and using feedback from sources. Project reporters also built their capacity and resilience for covering emotionally difficult topics. The project strengthened and clarified the working relationship between reporters and the station’s engagement strategist (who also served as the Project Director).
What Could Have Worked Better
1. Distributing resources
The project met community-identified information needs by producing two digital resources: A Guide to Reporting Sexual Assault (resources for victims of sexual assault specific to the Sacramento area, including breakdowns of the reporting and investigation process) and a Conversation Kit on how to support survivors of sexual assault. Both were created in response to stakeholder needs by providing more in-depth resources about the legal reporting process and healing practices beyond the podcast. They were designed to be distributed online since stakeholders suggested that would be the best way to access and share them with the broadest range of users. Yet neither gained much traction in terms of traditional engagement metrics. This was likely due to an overreliance on project partners to promote the products and a lack of resources to develop a more robust marketing plan. Both resources could have been more widely distributed and utilized.
2. Measuring long-term impacts
While CapRadio was able to measure engagement with the podcast and the additional resources through comments sent to the station and comments posted on Instagram and other social media channels, it does not have a way to track how its wider audience was affected by the podcast. By the end of the project, a local police chief requested the development of a new police training for all patrol officers; Sacramento’s deputy district attorney had changed her approach to when she met with survivors and what she did in those meetings and the local rape crisis center required all new staff and volunteers to onboard by listening to the entire After the Assault podcast. Since the evaluation is not ongoing, there are still unknowns regarding the institutionalization of training among law enforcement and whether law enforcement improved its communication with survivors and/or advocates.
What Else You Should Know
This project was designed with the Sacramento area in mind. It was decided that pursuing meaningful impact and change beyond a local scale would have proven too difficult and not have succeeded in meeting the project’s goals. That being said, national organizations have had conversations about distributing these resources beyond the greater Sacramento area.
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