Journalism, modern media, and the taboo

An introduction from the editor

Reporting on child sexual assault (CSA) is taboo, unless done in a certain way. According to modern media, children who have been violated must be portrayed as innocent victims who have been ruined for life, and the people who have committed the offences must be portrayed as evil monsters deserving of society’s vengeance.

This isn’t an accurate representation of reality, and it causes huge problems for survivors and for those working on abuse prevention. Motivated by the need to sell papers and gain viewers, editors and journalists rely heavily on pathos, stirring the coals beneath anyone who might think, “I am offended by this!”. The more the media uses pathos to communicate the seriousness of CSA, the less society is able to prevent sexual abuse to children.

Pathos sells papers, but it doesn’t give facts. It doesn’t educate. It doesn’t suggest possible strategies for preventing child sexual abuse. Instead, it increases stigma and incites violence.

Journalists must take it upon themselves to learn the facts and communicate them to their audiences. What was taboo can no longer be, as it leaves the minors in our society taking the burden.

Journalists, reporters, and editors must take it upon themselves to accept responsibility. They must do their part in protecting a segment of our society that is not always able to protect themselves. They can do this by upholding certain standards in their reporting of “taboo” topics:

  • ensure that the piece is not influenced by or serving the needs of one section of society (a political side, a children’s charity, a religious group)
  • never conflating pedophilia with child sexual abuse, or pedophiles with people who offend (since this creates confusion about the true causes of offending, which hinders work on prevention)
  • ensuring that quotes from experts refer specifically to the topic being discussed (e.g. quotes from forensic researchers are not relevant to whether pedophilia resembles a sexual orientation)
  • when writing about sexual paraphilias, obtain quotes from those who identify or have been diagnosed with those paraphilias (“own voices”)
  • when citing studies, ensure the studies are recent, peer-reviewed, and widely accepted
  • maintain a constant lack of bias

Despite the taboo, I decided to go into journalism and be a sexuality journalist because there are plenty of journalists and bloggers that can write about “healthy sex”, whatever that is, but such sex seems kind of boring to me. Just browse the pages of Psychology Today. There is all the safe sex talk you want, except such is like self-help books: if they worked, there wouldn’t be so many of them.

Who gets to decide what is healthy or not, right?

The ones making those rules believe that they are all somehow superior to us. They know better than we do, and that is really where real abuse starts to happen—when one puts oneself above others.

Sadly, we all do this. Kids are abused because adults or older kids put themselves in a higher position.

Sex-negative ideas foster lack of research

It may be safe to write about “spicing up your relationship with mindfulness,” and that can be important, but I want to discuss what people think about but don’t talk about. Such can be dangerous, for me. I want to write about taboo subjects. I wrote about the media conflation with pedophilia because I am really sick of so-called professional journalists and editors deliberately misleading the public because of profit motives rather than an ethical commitment to democracy and facts. Parents can fail to identify real offenders and risks because they are looking for “monsters.”

I noted in another article that the real fear people have about kids and attraction is their own fear that they will find a kid attractive. Very taboo. To say it leads to offending follows the misconceptions and lies the media feed us. Lawmakers use these false ideas to scare us into believing in easy fixes. In the U.S. every single thing is about money. Kids are a great way to make money and to look like the hero, so politicians are “tough on crime.” Being tough on crime has never, ever reduced crime.

People need to see their “brute natures” and their thoughts and feelings, and to own their feelings. We cannot do that if the media culture continues to foster myths about taboo sex as a way to have us run from ourselves while accusing others. We also need to research “icky” taboo topics that make us uncomfortable.

We refuse to learn about sexuality and now only want to “stay positive.” The result is that we criminalize non-existent kids and keep expanding child pornography law, so we have more offenders. Then we panic because we say, in yet another New York Times piece, that the crimes are still going up. Well, no kidding. We cannot make things better when in panic mode.

People are still medieval in their thinking. As adults, we still believe in monsters, even more than our kids do. There are no monsters, only our thoughts. Some act on thoughts, true enough, but most don’t act on such things. Sexual thoughts scare us the most.

News media entertains but seldom informs

The Baltimore Post-Examiner did something amazing by allowing me to post on sexuality. This is unusual for a mainstream news site. They had courage, but they also saw the need. Many people are very scared or squeamish about such taboo topics, but they really do want to read and discuss them. I hope I can create a place for people to do that and foster more funded sex research so that when we make initiative laws, such laws are well thought out and do what they are supposed to do.

We also have to do more research on taboo sex and prevention. I feel we run into a room, shooting and blindfolded, without wanting to understand why some people like what they do. More research will help our prevention efforts. When we look at paraphilias in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorders, it’s clearly the least researched, yet no category has more variety—nearly 600 different kinds of paraphilia. Researching sex means getting better at prevention, and focusing more on treatment than punishment.


  1. […] Prostasia foundation, journalism, modern media and taboo, Earl Yarington, 2019 […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.