The Invisible Crime
Category: Best data-driven reporting (small and large newsrooms)
Organisation: The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Brisbane Times, WA Today
Organisation size: Big
Publication date: 13/09/2019
Credit: Nicole Precel, Eleanor Marsh, Rachael Dexter, Soren Frederiksen, Craig Butt
Sexual violence in Australia is pervasive but rarely prosecuted, much less punished. Invisible Crime journalism series aims to give texture to the experiences of those who survive these crimes and a data-driven analysis of the systems that too often fail to deliver justice. With a campaign of stories that included a 13-minute documentary and 10 articles that featured in The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Brisbane Times and WA Today, which included o a mix of data visualisation, multimedia and months of shoe-leather reporting; our storytelling is grounded in hard numbers, while never losing sight of the people they
The Invisible Crime has reignited a discussion about the complexities of prosecuting sexual assault cases in the Australian court system, and whether there are better ways to approach this complex issue. It revealed failures in data kept on sexual assault You can read some of the opinion pieces it spurred here and here. We worked extremely hard to ensured all survivors victims felt empowered through the re-telling of their stories. Because of our approach, survivors were proud of the result and their involvement in it. One survivor said, “Your interest in my story along with the fact you a) believed me and b) thought it to be important enough to include has been monumental in my recovery. No one ever asks us about it. So this is just a breath of fresh air”. “The weirdest part was reading through it all and not remembering what my pseudonym was because multiple times I thought I was reading my own story only to realise it was someone else’s. Our feelings and reactions are identical in some cases. I found this sad (for them) but so, so validating.” Feedback from the legal profession has also been positive. Australian Lawyers Alliance spokesperson and lawyer Greg Barns said, “It’s the best coverage I have seen in sexual assault and the legal system. It’s such a difficult issue and striking the balance is fraught but you did it.” We’ve received countless emails and messages from people who were sexually assaulted and felt a connection to the stories and documentary. Many of those were victims who have never disclosed to anyone before. Our project is being used as evidence in a submission to the Queensland Law Reform Commission inquiry into the mistake of fact defence, and we’ve been asked to attend legal services to speak about our
A mix of data visualisation, multimedia and months of shoe-leather reporting; our storytelling is grounded in hard numbers, while never losing sight of the people they represent.
We were analytical, methodical and transparent with our approach to the data. Our data editor’s comprehensive disclaimer means our methodology is public and accounted for.
On a technical level this was an ambitious project. Our key data story includes multiple interactive elements, built painstakingly by designer Soren Frederiksen using WebGL – a cutting-edge technology that taps into a devices’ graphics processor to make modern browsers capable of more than ever before -the team was able to create visualisations that both drove the narrative and broke new ground for the newsroom. The other multimedia ‘In their own words’ was built with the aim of giving readers one snippet of a story, with broader context as they scroll. A feature documentary is also a first for our newsrooms.
What was the hardest part of this project?
This was an ambitious project from the outset: our aim was to collate all available data from every state and legal jurisdiction in Australia, and for the first time illustrate the journey of a survivor of sexual assault through the entire criminal justice system – from reporting all the way through to conviction. No such body of work existed in Australia before this undertaking. Reporters spent six months developing this project, which included 20 Freedom of Information and data requests. This was an extraordinarily painstaking process. Some agencies were extremely reluctant to release data, so one of the hardest parts of this project was relentlessly advocating for the release of public information on the grounds that it was in the public interest. Once we had collected as many data sets as we could, the task was then to sort and present the data in an accurate way. Disparities in collection methods in each state made this task a very challenging one. We were meticulous with our approach, on such an important subject we chose not to make any assumptions in our collating o As well as being technically difficult, the subject matter itself made this a tough assignment. Our team conducted more than 30 hours of in-depth interviews with survivors, police, prosecutors, defence lawyers and judges. All story subjects must be treated with respect and fairness, but for survivors of sexual assault, our duty of care was of a much higher standard. It took a great deal of time to build up trust with each of our case studies – meeting them on multiple occasions and spending time with them completely off-the-record before a microphone or a camera ever entered the room. Each person was at a different stage of their recovery, and this required on-going emotional support and follow
What can others learn from this project?
Our groundbreaking project, the first and biggest of its kind in Australia on such a sensitive and important issue, revealed inadequacies in our justice system. We aimed to reveal how you can connect data with real people’s stories in an engaging and powerful way.
We believe other newsrooms can and should adopt a data driven approach to issues that are sensitive and often become the fodder for the culture wars. By grounding the reporting at each stage to hard facts and figures, it gave us a platform of legitimacy and authority to highight issues in the system in a practical way.
Through The Invisible Crime we revealed failures in policing when it comes to reporting crime, high rates of reports being withdrawn, and a lack of training for officers. We revealed the complexities of the judicial system, unable to cope with a crime so private, often with such little evidence. It also revealed the huge cultural shift needed in regards to consent education
We would hope that in the future, governments and agencies put more effort and funding into high quality data collection. Through our Freedom of Information and Right to Information requests process, we realised just how archaic most data collection is for courts. Data can be patchy, and non-existent in some cases. Some files are sitting in warehouses in hard copy, unable to be accessed by the public or journalists on their behalf. This is an unacceptable status quo – for without data on the basic performance of our public institutions, there cannot be public trust in their efficacy and there is also no data on which to advocate for policy changes.