Dealing with Being Misrepresented in the Media

This article is part of our “Dealing with…” advice series, written by activists based on their own experiences.

When I first came out publicly as a survivor, one of my good friends who was very public about her rape experience in the 90’s gave me this advice: “You will be misquoted, misrepresented, and misunderstood, and this goes for anyone who has ever been in the media spotlight, so know that it will happen to you too.”

  • While most reporters will get the facts straight, some might take your words out of context or misunderstand what you’ve experienced. Remember that most reporters aren’t up to date on the inter-workings of how institutions handle sexual assault cases, so be sure to explain things in basic terms and ask them if more clarification is needed. If a reporter makes you feel uncomfortable by trying to sensationalize your experience or anything else, you always have the right to not answer questions and/or end an interview.
  • Always ask if a conversation is being recorded and ask if you have editorial review of a story or your quotes. It is up to you to tell as much or as little as you feel comfortable with sharing.
  • Once a story comes out and you notice something is inaccurate, most of the time you can email or call the editor/author and give them the correct information. I usually only do this where there is an error in fact or if something sounds terribly wrong. Sometimes, a word or two might be messed up in a quote, but I try to let that go. Before doing a big interview, I usually look up the reporter and/or ask others what their experiences with the individual were like. You can also give them comments and feedback about how you feel they portrayed your story.
  • Finally, regardless of how good an article is, an individual might read it and still misunderstand your story and write victim-blaming comments, etc. on the page. Some of your friends and family might question your experiences based on how an article is written.  Depending on your level of comfort with the individuals in your life, it could be helpful to tell them before an article is published, or discuss it with them afterwards. You have to remember that it is your story, your truth, and no one can take that from you. Also, I highly recommend not reading or responding to ignorant, mean comments online; it’s usually not worth your time or energy.

For more information on using the media to create change, visit our resources on “How to Harness the Media for Your Movement” and “Interviewing with Journalists”.