CoJMC alumna wins Investigative Reporters & Editors award

CoJMC alumna wins Investigative Reporters & Editors award

Tuesday, April 10, 2018 - 12:15pm
Paula Lavigne headshot
Lavigne is a 1998 graduate of the CoJMC. She also serves as a member of the Professional Advisory Board.

by Molly Chapple

CoJMC alumna Paula Lavigne, an investigative reporter at ESPN, was recently named a winner of the 2017 Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE) awards in the book category for "Violated: Exposing Rape at Baylor University Amid College Football’s Sexual Assault Crisis.”

The book was co-authored by Mark Schlabach, a senior writer for ESPN.com. The pair had been reporting on Baylor University for about a year when ESPN came to them with the idea for the the two to write a book.

“We worked jointly on the reporting and writing, sharing equally in the angst, frustration and months of hard work that resulted in the finished book,” Lavigne said.

The book dives into the sexual assault cases at Baylor University and how they became intertwined with the athletic program. Lavigne said she and Schlabach knew from their reporting on Baylor that sexual assault was endemic throughout college sports. However, Baylor stood out for a few reasons.

“It stood out for the sheer scope of the problem combined with the inherent struggles of a private religious institution whose leaders – to put it mildly – weren’t very enlightened when it came to dealing with such issues,” Lavigne said. “And it was unprecedented in its actions; never before had a top-tier Division 1 program fired its head coach in the wake of a string of sexual assault cases.”

Lavigne said she hopes the book provides a cautionary tale for universities to becoming more educated about how they handle sexual assault cases. She also hopes the book serves as an inspiration for students, particularly any past, current or future victims of sexual assault.

“If the book encourages just one survivor to speak out, or enables just one survivor to demand his or her rights under Title IX, then it was worth it,” Lavigne said.

Lavigne said she and Schlabach knew the book would have an audience within academic, victims’ rights groups and students alike because the topic of sexual assault is very high-profile and important.

Lavigne said she was very excited to win the IRE Award in the book category. She has been a member of IRE for decades and said she considers the IRE collective to have been her closest peers and allies over her years of reporting. She said she was especially happy to share the news with Schlabach.

“Mark and I put so much grueling effort into this book,” Lavigne said. “We listened to a lot of heartache and pain from the women we interviewed, and as hard as it was for us to listen to those stories, we knew it was 10 times harder for them to share them with us. We worked diligently down to the wire to get as many voices in the book as possible.”

Looking toward the future, Lavigne said she thinks there is still a lot of progress to be made with how to address sexual assault.

“There’s a real lack of transparency out there when it comes to addressing this issue, and that’s true for a lot of campuses – not just the ones that have been getting all the attention,” she said. “Women are still afraid to come forward and they’re still saying that they’re not getting the information they need. There’s still a real stigma about sexual assault, and secrecy breeds that stigma.”

Lavgine is a 1998 graduate of the CoJMC. She also serves as a member of the Professional Advisory Board.

The IRE Awards is the annual contest of Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc. recognizing the best in investigative reporting by print, broadcast and online media.

After judging, all entries are placed in IRE's Resource Center story library so that IRE members may learn from others' triumphs and troubles. The contest helps identify techniques and resources used by the entrants.

The awards recognize outstanding investigative work in several categories. The top award given is the IRE Medal.