Fuel to the Fire? Newspaper Reporting of Sexual Offending Across the US, UK, Norway, and New Zealand


  • Pål Grøndahl
  • Ingeborg J. Sandbukt
  • Christine Friestad
  • Ragnar Kristoffersen
  • Caitlyn P. Drinkwater
  • Daniel Richardson
  • Gwenda M. Willis


Research suggests that the news media plays an important role in shaping public opinion about sex crimes and the people who commit them, thereby influencing the development of laws and policies. The media has potential to fuel non-evidence-based policies that are ineffective and counterproductive. Alternatively, the media offers a powerful vehicle for educating the public and promoting evidence-based practices and policies. The current study aimed to examine newspaper reports of sexual crimes across four countries with different criminal justice responses to sexual offending. Constructed week sampling was used to generate samples of newspaper articles over a six-month period in 2015. Episodic articles were coded to examine how people accused/charged with sexual offenses were portrayed, the extent to which articles aligned with stereotypes, and the extent to which rehabilitation was mentioned as a solution (n = 240). Episodic and thematic articles were combined to code for systemic/environmental solutions to sexual crimes (n = 290). Overall, Norwegian articles demonstrated more neutral and less informative portrayals of individuals who have sexually offended, compared to US, UK, and New Zealand. At the same time, Norwegian articles were less likely to discuss solutions to sexual offending. Rehabilitation was rarely discussed as a solution. However, environmental/systemic solutions were discussed in approximately one third of articles. Implications for framing sexual abuse as a public health problem rather than a criminal justice problem are discussed.