‘It Happens Here, Too’: Student Newspaper at Loyola Marymount Spotlights Sexual Violence in Special Report
“I carried with me the hopes of my family. … I carried my own aspirations. Most importantly, I carried the possibility of a fresh start as a burgeoning young woman in the city of my dreams. But those hopes and that naive sense of possibility were taken away from me the night I was raped. I was left empty, my humanity stripped from me, alone in a sea of skyscrapers.”
A new five-page special report in The Los Angeles Loyolan at Loyola Marymount University dissects and contemplates sexual violence on the modern college campus from multiple perspectives — including a student rape survivor, the parents of a student rape survivor and a sexual assault perpetrator.
The guest column by the student survivor’s parents is especially compelling. They share details of their daughter’s rape this past Halloween at a house party, their subsequent prolonged grief and their continued lack of understanding at what compels individuals to rape or help protect an alleged rapist.
In their words:
“It haunts our family. It is a nightmare for parents to know their child has been subjected to such pain and suffering and to imagine our daughter fearing for her life. It haunts us more to know we were not called to be by our daughter’s side. … Rape is a violent, damaging crime and it is time we treated it as such. Our daughter did nothing wrong that night, and anyone who helped the rapist get away or is withholding his name is at fault. We need to treat this crime like every other. We need to place the blame on those who choose to do it and those who cover it up.”
In addition, Loyolan senior editor Chelsea Chenelle presents a powerfully candid open letter. Now a senior at LMU, Chenelle was raped during the fall of her freshman year while at a school in San Francisco. Her letter first appeared in the paper in November — addressed to the victim of a high-profile sexual assault case.
As she explains at one point: “There will be people who tell you, ‘I understand.’ But they don’t. No one can truly understand, especially when you cannot even understand it yourself. … I wish I could tell you things will be all right, but that’s a lie. Things aren’t all right and I cannot say when or if they ever will be. But don’t do what I did. Don’t fake a smile for your parents. Process it. Confront it. Do whatever you can to know justice.”
In the Q&A below, Loyolan editor-in-chief Ali Swenson discusses the behind-the-scenes stories of the parent and perpetrator pieces and the challenges she and the staff faced producing the report overall. She also offers advice to student media teams aiming to present similar coverage on their own campus.
What were the toughest or most surprising challenges involved in constructing the issue?
One of the biggest challenges we faced was trying to use appropriate language and cover the topic sensitively without skirting around the big issues at hand. We put all the content through several more rounds of editing and planned far more ahead of time than we normally would with any regular issue, because we knew sexual assault was a complicated and important topic to grasp and to write about. Fact-checking and verifying the information in each of the stories was challenging, too, especially considering the nature of our sources and our subject matter.
Something that surprised me was how involved our entire staff ended up getting in the project. While we assigned out some stories, many of the articles on sexual assault that ended up in the issue were pitched and executed by staff in every section, ranging from interns all the way to executive staff members. We also incorporated our cartoon staff in a really meaningful way, which was great. It was amazing to see our entire staff rise to the occasion of putting together this issue.
How did the piece by the parents of the student sexual assault survivor come together?
The parents actually read an article in the Loyolan that inspired them to contact us, from my understanding. The article — “It Happens Here: An Open Letter” — was about a student’s own experience as a sexual assault survivor and her words to the victim of the alleged Yorktown Avenue rape. It was originally published in November and we reprinted it again for this special report.
Once I was in contact with the family, I talked quite a bit with them about their daughter’s situation and how they wanted to do the story. In the end, they decided to write out a piece themselves that we then helped them edit down into what we ended up publishing. It was a pleasure to work with the family on this project, and I think they had a very important perspective to share.
“I would absolutely recommend planning ahead. This kind of special section requires so much time and careful thought about the content and its presentation. To rush it could mean running the risk of making factual errors or failing to cover the issue sensitively and comprehensively.”
Describe the staff’s thinking on why the Q&A with the sexual assault perpetrator was worth conducting and publishing.
When we decided we were going to put together a news package about sexual assault, we knew right away that we wanted to take a comprehensive perspective and really examine the issue from all angles. So when the opportunity to interview this person came along, we felt it would be valuable to include, even if some might feel uncomfortable with it.
The perpetrator had an important message to share — that sexual assault takes many forms and can involve some grey area. The perpetrator learned a lot about consent, about alcohol abuse and about how to treat women through his experience being charged with sexual assault — and we wanted to share those lessons with the LMU community.
What’s your advice for student media teams interested in following in your stead and publishing a special sexual violence report of their own?
I would absolutely recommend planning ahead. This kind of special section requires so much time and careful thought about the content and its presentation. To rush it could mean running the risk of making factual errors or failing to cover the issue sensitively and comprehensively. I’d also make sure you really brainstorm what articles you’d like to write and why you think they’re important to your campus. We chose our articles for this section because we found them relevant to our student body. We also thought they were a nice group of articles that told many of the different narratives of sexual assault.
Diversity of opinion and point of view in this section was critical, in my opinion. I would recommend that other student media teams planning on producing something similar ought to choose content that will be particularly engaging to your audience.