Kirsty Strickland: Media matters when it comes to tackling violence against women

This article was originally printed in the National Newspaper on 31 August 2015.

A shortened version also appeared in Common Space. Kirsty Quote Not Just A Domestic

During the independence referendum and more recently during the General Election campaign, much was made of the idea of a potential progressive new Scotland.

You see the word being bandied about on Twitter, almost used as an in-waiting badge for a country we so desperately want to be.

Most people will have their own interpretation of what that entails. Some already think Scotland is progressive in comparison to the rest of the UK, others recognise we still have some way to go.

For me personally, the epitome of progression is – with good intention in your heart – challenging conventions and practices that hold a country or its people back. That means looking at societal problems with a critical eye and asking ourselves – can we do more? Is this really the best we can do?

One such problem we face in Scotland, on a similar shameful scale as our counterparts in the rest of the UK, is the issue of male violence against women and girls. This is a complex social problem, encompassing domestic abuse, sexual violence and rape, as well as so-called “honour” crimes and forced marriage. These issues are multifaceted and nuanced. As such,the way the media report these crimes can sometimes exacerbate and inflame the discourse, rather than inform the reader.

That is why am delighted The National has given its support to Zero Tolerance’s Write To End Violence Against Women Awards. The awards, held at the Scottish Parliament, have been running for three years, and celebrate journalists and writers who report VAW in a responsible way.

This means not sensationalising to titillate readers and not salivating over the gory details. It means avoiding lazy stereotypes and victim blaming, as well as providing the context of gendered violence. In short, the awards and campaign encourage writers to seek a higher standard and understanding of the complexity of the issues surrounding violence against women (VAW).

Scotland is becoming ever more critical of its media, and rightly so. Expectations are high. This has paved the way for “New Media” such as Common Space and to step in and fill gaps that the referendum uncovered. This time of transition provides a golden opportunity to look at the way VAW is reported and let news outlets know we expect better. We expect some progression from the offering thus far.

Words have the power to change perceptions, to ignite prejudice or help wash it away. They have the power to mould public opinion and. in turn, how we perceive victims and their worthiness.

Media matters.

By celebrating the writers and journalists who think more deeply about the issues surrounding VAW and report it with more care, we can encourage the bar to be lifted and the acceptable status quo to be shifted. We need to change the idea that a woman’s sexual history has any place next to the details of her murder. We need to change the perception that a man beating his wife is “just a domestic”.

We need to change grotesque nicknames – The Body in the Loft, The Shampoo Bottle Murder – that sensationalise the violent actions of one human being against another.

We need to change these things, because if we don’t, we can’t really change Scotland in any meaningful way. Yes, we can become greener, we can become fairer, we can become more politically engaged, we can even have a female First Minister.

But if the safety of Scotland’s women in life – and the dignity of them in death – is ignored, it will be a long time before we can truly call ourselves progressive.

The Zero Tolerance Handle With Care guide offers advice on various issues from interviewing survivors to providing relevant context and ensuring that violence is neither trivialised nor sensationalised

The Zero Tolerance Handle With Care guide offers advice on responsible VAW reporting.

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