Sunday Herald and Zero Tolerance have teamed up to change how violence against women is reported

This article originally appeared in the Sunday Herald – read it here

Violence against women is something we see in the media every day – be it a storyline on our TV screens, a news item on the radio or splashed across the front page of a newspaper. The devastating killing of MP Jo Cox this week as she headed to her constituency surgery in Birstall, forces us to acknowledge how sickeningly prevalent it is in our society. And with this prevalence we must consider our perception of it, a perception that is shaped by the media we consume.

Good reporting can play a vital role in challenging violence against women – but bad reporting will reinforce victim blaming and deflect attention away from the perpetrator. We undertook research in 2014 where people read news reporting about violence against women. The study indicated that when reading articles which focussed on the victim’s actions, participants were both more likely to engage in victim blaming and to ignore the actions of the perpetrator.

Global figures indicate that 1 in 3 (35%) women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. The 2015 Scottish Women’s Aid census found that more than 1000 women and children in Scotland get support from Women’s Aid services on any given day. With domestic abuse rates still this high we must all continue to challenge the narrative that violence against women is in any way acceptable.

Zero Tolerance Co-director Laura Tomson said: “Although Scotland has made real progress towards ending violence against women, we still live in a culture of inequality in which we reach for any explanation for men’s violence other than the chosen behaviour of violent men and the social values which support such violence. The Scottish media is an integral part of Scottish culture, and has a vital role to play in giving the public the real facts about violence and inequality.”

When Zero Tolerance launched in 1992, the cultural landscape was very different. The idea that a woman was more in danger of violence from a man she knew, rather than a stranger, was almost unheard of. Domestic violence was viewed as a ‘private matter’ between a husband and wife.

Our six month campaign used four posters to raise awareness about the reality and prevalence of child sexual abuse, rape and sexual assault, and domestic violence. This was a ground breaking step in shifting the issue of violence against women into the public consciousness.

Since then Zero Tolerance has gone on to address the gender inequality that underpins men’s violence against women, by working with the Scottish Government, schools, employers and more. We have seen heartening progress along the way – Scotland’s sexual offences laws have been re-written and there are now strategies, policies and organisations working to end men’s violence against women in all its forms. The insidious nature of male power, and the way it disadvantages women physically, socially and economically, is a topic of discussion now more than ever.

However, media reporting of gendered violence still presents challenges. It often allows such violence to be framed by another narrative like football or alcohol abuse, while ignoring the behaviour of the perpetrator and the root cause of gender inequality. It can trivialise a traumatic event for the sake of a witty headline or sensationalise the story to titillate the reader.

In the run up to the EU referendum we’re also seeing a worrying trend of anti-immigration rhetoric as politicians across Europe call for tighter border controls. This climate of fear drowns out the voices of those women who are fleeing violence against women in their own country, and vulnerable to even further abuse here due to lack of resources and insecure immigration status.

The tragic death of Jo Cox is no stand alone incident – many are rightly viewing it inextricably linked to the anti-immigration rhetoric that has dominated the media this year. However it is also yet one more act of men’s violence against women. We cannot see this as unconnected to anti-women speech, where the fact that female MPs face rape and death threats every day is seen as part and parcel of their job.

Journalists today are often under pressure to produce more stories in less time and with fewer resources, which is why we must work collaboratively to build the media we want to see. An awareness of the issues surrounding violence against women and sensitivity regarding language will help journalists engage not only with agencies working in this field, but also women who have been directly affected and might be prepared to share their stories.

Zero Tolerance launched the Write to End Violence Against Women awards in response to this growing awareness of the importance of media influence. We want to celebrate the high quality articles written each year and to recognise the courage it takes, often, to swim against the tide of sexist reporting.

Now in its fourth year the Write to End Violence Against Women Awards have progressed in leaps and bounds, and we are thrilled to welcome the Sunday Herald as our media partner. Laura Tomson said of the awards “These awards show that Scotland can produce outstanding reporting on violence against women – reporting that is both newsworthy and responsible. We are excited to be working with the Sunday Herald to continue to promote the journalists that achieve this.”

We have also created a new category ‘Women and Migration’ to recognise those stories which provide a clearer and more thoughtful picture on migration and how this affects women.

The Write Awards are structured to award all types of media – formal journalism, but also younger bloggers and emerging writers. We want to give a voice to everyone who is putting out quality journalism and hear from the widest variety of voices as possible.

Previous winner Kirsty Strickland said this about the awards: “Words have the power to change perceptions, to ignite prejudices or to help wash it away. They have the power to mould public opinion and in turn, how we perceive victims and their worthiness”

The Write to End Violence Against Women awards is an opportunity for Scottish society to come together in building the media we want to see in Scotland, and to challenge any narrative which says violence against women is acceptable.

Read the article on the Sunday Herald

Find out how to submit an article here

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