Category Archives: Media monitoring

Spotlight on Scottish Media: what’s the story?

Media monitoring Numbers

This March, Zero Tolerance Project Support Intern Jenny Lester is blogging about the results of her media monitoring study. She’s been scanning Scottish newspapers for stories about violence against women to get an idea about the state of media reporting in Scotland. 

In 57 articles discussing rape, domestic abuse, violence, and murder there were 0 mentions of helplines that could be contacted if the issues affected the reader. This was one of the more disappointing findings from the media monitoring project I have undertaken for Zero Tolerance.

From week beginning the 29th of January I bought nine major newspapers (the Scottish Sun, Scottish Daily Mirror, the Scottish Times, Scottish Daily Mail, the Scotsman, the Scottish Herald, the Scottish Daily Express, the Scottish Telegraph, the Guardian) to analyse the coverage of violence against women in the Scottish press.

I’ve split the findings into four blogs, this first one discusses the what the stories were about – a quantitative analysis of the content of the 57 stories. The second, which will follow next week, is about the language used in the stories. The third covers whose side the stories were on. And the 4th is about the breakdown of the gender of the author of the stories.

Violence, rape, and murder of white women

Domestic abuse and violence against women affects all women – 1 in 3 women worldwide experience physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.¹ The abuse and violence that women experience is varied, it can come in different combinations, it can happen over a long period of time and it often escalates – intimate partner murder is often the end of a cycle of domestic abuse.  

In Scotland between 2014-2015 there were 59,882 incidents of domestic abuse and 1,901 rapes or attempted rapes recorded by the police.²³ This prevalence of violence against women means that journalists are not neutral in the selection of stories. It is important to remember that there are a multitude of stories, and journalists actively chose what to report and what not to report. The stories that are chosen to be published shape the public perception of what violence against women looks like.

Reporting only the “goriest” of stories, or mainly reporting on stories where the woman is white and middle class, and/or the assailant is poor and blackinforms and shapes myths surrounding rape. For example that it is perpetrated by strangers – when around 90% of women know the man who raped them before the incident.5

There were 57 stories in total – 50% of these stories were about rape and sexual assault, 38% were about violence and murder, and only 13% covered other forms of abuse.

Media monitoring Types of Abuse

Without stories about non-physical abuse, e.g psychological or financial, , the women who suffer it may feel they are alone in what they endure, or may feel like their situation is normal, or that there is no help available. Especially when no helpline is listed next to the story!

Reporting only on violence and sexual assault does not represent the range of violence against women and domestic abuse that exists. There is an active choice to focus on sensational stories with white victim-survivors which does not portray violence against women (VAW) as what it is; an everyday occurrence for women of all ethnicities, facilitated by a societal norms, that can be stopped.

It happens all the time

It was disappointing to note that almost all of the stories did not reference the magnitude of this epidemic. Feminist activists have long been trying to lift the silence on rape – and dispel the myth that it is rare and exceptional. Only one story out of 57 situated the story in the context of the scale of violence against women. This was in the Sun’s large spread on the new Domestic Abuse Bill6 – this newest legislation passed by the Scottish government rightfully criminalises psychological abuse such as coercive and controlling behaviour. The story was a transcript of the speech given by Justice Secretary Michael Matheson, and as such provided statistical context including reference to the #every9minutes campaign, and the gendered nature of domestic abuse; 79% of cases being with a women victim-survivor, and a male accused.


Every other story ran without this context. Leaving each of those stories to appear to be one-offs; horrible, but singularities. Things that happen to other people. Not only is this not true, but it also fails to recognise the preventable societal cause for the epidemic of violence against women.

A thousand words

I was pleasantly surprised by the imagery alongside the stories. Most pictures that accompanied stories were good, they showed pictures of the women as individuals, or the couple together. Ironically, the one story that used a picture of a black eye was the Sun story about Domestic Abuse bill, with their online story alongside a women flinching away from a man about to hit her. This seemed a strange choice as the story was literally covering a bill that says domestic abuse is not always physical.

Screenshot from the Sun depicting stock image of cowering woman and shadow of a man with raised fist.

Stock image used by The Sun – this is a stereotypical example of domestic abuse as purely physical.

Displaying pictures of bruises and physical injury, such as black eyes, does not cover the scope of harm done to women. It perpetuates the myth that domestic abuse is only when a man physically abuses a woman.

Not sure what picture to use? Zero Tolerance has a whole image bank of free to use stock images that can be used alongside stories about violence against women. Find these on our website. 


Photo credit: Laura Dodsworth


Focusing only on “gory” stories of stranger rape and violence, using stereotypical images, and not providing context shape societal perceptions of what we recognise as abuse and how we view the scale of the problem and creates a culture. A culture that does not recognise what happens to some women as abuse unless they are physically assaulted. It can make those women blame themselves, feel ashamed, and scared to come forward.

It is very easy to counteract this and not be part of the problem as a journalist or editor. As such, I’ll be ending each blog with a simple set of recommendations, because writing about Violence Against Women in a way that is not harmful is really very basic.


  1. Select stories carefully – report on all forms of abuse, not just physical violence. When covering murder, report on the domestic abuse present in the lead up to it.
  2. Contextualise the story – use with facts about violence against women to show the scale of the epidemic.
  3. Depict with care – use pictures that do not perpetuate harmful myths about the nature of abuse.
  4. Include helplines – once reading your story a woman might want help; make sure you are facilitating her finding it immediately.

For full recommendations on how to write about Violence Against Women see our guidelines

Have you written or read a story that is an example of good practice in reporting Violence Against Women? Enter the Write to End Violence Against Women Award.

If you have been affected by any of these issues please get in touch:

Rape Crisis Scotland – 08088 01 03 02

Rape Crisis Scotland provides a national rape crisis helpline and email support for anyone affected by sexual violence, no matter when or how it happened.

Scotland’s domestic abuse and forced marriage helpline – 0800 027 1234

Scottish Women’s Aid runs a helpline, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, which supports anyone with experience of domestic abuse or forced marriage, as well as their family members, friends, colleagues and professionals who support them.

  3. It is important to remember that figures are much higher and go unreported.
  4. Benedict, H. (1992). Virgin or vamp: How the press covers sex crimes. New York: Oxford University Press. And Block, S. (2001–2002). Rape and race in colonial newspapers. Journalism History, 27(4), 146–155
  6. The Sun 01.02.18 No Author Specified, Domestic Abuse is everyday horror we simply will not ignore, pp. 3-4



Media representation of violence against women: why do the papers give celebrities a pass?

This blog is the fourth in a series in which Claire Simpson, PhD student at the University of Stirling discusses the results of her media monitoring project. Read her first, second and third blog here. Over the next few weeks we will publish blogs from Claire where she takes in an in depth look at some of the results of her study.

During my media monitoring I noticed several stories on Violence Against Women (VAW) involved a celebrity. The reporting on these incidents varied greatly between celebrity as perpetrator and celebrity as victim/survivor. Eight articles mentioned a celebrity: two as perpetrator and six as victim. All but one column were in the tabloids. This blog will examine the difference in representations of VAW dependent on the celebrity’s role.

Both stories where the celebrity was the culprit detailed Danny Dyer’s attempts at obtaining pornographic images from one of his fans. The two articles1+2 were front page news for The Sun as well as a double page spread inside. Dyer and the woman exchanged messages over Twitter where he sent her photos of his genitalia and “begged”1 the woman for sexually explicit photos and videos. There is no mention of what Dyer had asked of the woman on either front page3+4, they only refer to the images he sent her. The initial story includes a humorous headline written in cockney rhyming slang, mocking the way Dyer speaks1. Such headlines trivialise VAW and therefore downplay how serious and prevalent it is. The UN reports 10% of women in the EU have been subject to explicit or offensive messages or images via text, email or social media5

Claire blog 4.1

Headline from The Sun, 23 February 2017

Alongside this article is a photo of Dyer with the caption “Dyered and Emotional”1 suggesting his behaviour is a result of a poor mental state. Showing an image of the perpetrator appearing weak will generate sympathy for him and distract from the woman’s experience. The following day The Sun reported on the threatening messages Dyer’s daughter had sent to the woman2 There was also a column discussing concerns of Dyer developing a sex addiction6. This is used to justify his multiple affairs and the interaction with this fan. Sex addiction appears to be a popular justification for VAW by the Scottish press; it was mentioned in several reports of an alleged rape by a Navy sailor7-9. Linking Dyer’s mental health to his acts helps perpetuate myths about sexual violence being a result of uncontrollable urges and desires when it is the opposite.

“Not one story spoke to the woman, instead centring the column on the perpetrator, his thoughts and feelings.”

Stories on celebrity victims of VAW received significantly less column space than that of Dyer. All of the articles occupied less than half a page, one third had no by line and none qualified as front page news. The headlines of these stories in The Sun used alliteration, sensationalist language and terminology downplaying the seriousness of the violence for instance, referring to a stalker as a “pest”10. Not one story spoke to the woman instead centring the column on the perpetrator, his thoughts and feelings.

Four of the articles discussed the prosecution of Jemima Khan’s stalker with three of them mentioning the perpetrator’s statement that Khan “doth protest too much”10-12 and two where he calls her a “silly woman”10+11. The column in the Daily Mail included a statement implying the stalker’s medication for skin cancer influenced his behaviour11.

Claire blog 4.2

Daily Mail headline, 20 February 2017

These comments have a two-fold effect. They lessen the trauma and seriousness of the crime whilst portraying the man as mentally unstable thus perpetuating the fiction that those who commit VAW are not sane, rational, and therefore normal, men. Khan’s stalker was more than a “pest”. A pest is an irritant whereas stalking is much more than a simple nuisance, it is harassment and it is a crime. Ms Khan was subject to this unwanted attention for years causing her fear and distress. The sexual harassment Dyer inflicted was considered big news where he was the victim of an addiction and poor mental state but, in comparison, the harassment Khan suffered barely registers, at least according to the press.

Women’s experiences of violence need to be acknowledged. The justifications of such actions need to stop. All forms of VAW are serious crimes and they must be reported as such.

1. Dale, R., 2017. Danny Asked for Butcher’s at me Boat and Bottle.. then Whipped out his Brighton*. The Scottish Sun, 24 Feb. pp6+7
2. Dale, R., 2017. Dani’s Hairdryer. The Scottish Sun, 25 Feb. pp4+5
3. N.A., 2017. Dyer Sexted Me Pic of his Ender. The Scottish Sun, 24 Feb. p1
4. Dale, R., 2017. Sext Fan Fury of Dyer’s Girl. The Scottish Sun, 25 Feb, p1
5. UN Women., 2016. Facts and Figures: Ending Violence Against Women. [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 16/04/2017]
6. Wootton, D., 2017. Friends Fear Ender’s Becoming Sex Addict. The Scottish Sun, 25 Feb. p5
7. N.A., 2017. ‘Rapist Told Mum of Guilt’. Daily Mirror, 21 Feb. p4
8. Taylor, C-A., 2017. Sailor is Cleared of ‘Rape in Sleep’. The Scottish Sun, 23 Feb. p11
9. Camber, R., 2017. She was Asleep and Drunk…I had Sex with Her. Scottish Daily Mail, 21 Feb. p5
10. Mayer, C., 2017. Jem Pest Admits to Stalk Hell. The Scottish Sun, 21 Feb. p18
11. Camber, R., 2017. Jemima Khan ‘Doth Protest Too Much’ Says Stalker Who Tormented Her. Daily Mail, 21 Feb. p27
12. N.A., 2017. Socialite Stalker Guilty. The Times, 21 Feb. p4

Media representation of violence against women: the reality of elderly perpetrators

This blog is the third in a series in which Claire Simpson, PhD student at the University of Stirling discusses the results of her media monitoring project. You can read her first and second blog here. Over the next few weeks we will be publishing blogs from Claire where she takes in an in depth look at some of the results of her study.

This instalment of the media monitoring blog series focuses on the representation of elderly perpetrators of violence against women (VAW). There were 14 articles, 13 of them in the tabloids, in which the perpetrator was a man at least 60 years old. Their crimes ranged from stalking to murder. It is important to analyse these articles as it will help dispel myths about what types of people inflict VAW.

The majority of stories in which the perpetrator was over 60 years old did not question his fitness to stand trial nor did they include his age in the headline. When the man was over 80 his age was always included in the title. Why is VAW presented as more shocking the older the perpetrator? Many of the columns highlighted the age and apparent frailty of the men, sometimes in wonderment at how such a physically or mentally weak individual could be violent/dangerous, other times to create sympathy for him1-5

These viewpoints were occasionally supported by photographs. The Daily Mirror1 was the only paper to include photographs of the elderly men looking frail. One story, in which an 86 year old man stabbed his wife to death, featured an image of him being put into an ambulance on a stretcher. Almost in juxtaposition, this article is the only one from my week of media monitoring to mention VAW as a social issue making this column an example of good and bad practice.

As the murder took place in a retirement home the coverage in the Express2 implied the man was suffering from a mental illness which includes facilities for such conditions whilst The Sun3 reports the killing as a failed suicide pact between the couple.

Creating sympathy for elderly perpetrators reinforces stereotypes of who can commit VAW as these men are portrayed as unlikely culprits. VAW takes many forms, not just physical or sexual abuse, yet these are frequently the only types of violence mentioned. It includes stalking, grooming, financial and emotional abuse. A man does not need to be physically fit to be able to be violent towards women. Failing to discuss the complexity of violence constituting domestic abuse and VAW is to exclude these abuses and women’s experiences as real or true forms of violence.

Another article in the Mirror4 displays an image of an elderly man at court in a wheelchair. He was accused of killing his wife. The article goes on to describe him as frail and details his smart attire. Later in the story, it mentions/compares him to Britain’s oldest convicted murderer, who was 99 years old, and portrays the murder of his wife as a mercy killing due to her ill health. The emphasis of these articles is on the physicality of the violence despite the perpetrators being older and seemingly less capable. VAW is never justifiable, no matter the age of the criminal or the “reason” for the violence. If you can do the crime, you can do the time. If the man had committed the same crime but was 20 years younger he would likely have been treated much differently by the press.

Men in their 60s were described as “beasts”, “depraved” and “deranged”6+7 but no such language was used when the perpetrator was older. These adjectives not only dehumanise the men but suggest “normal”, “sane” men could not inflict VAW therefore reproducing the false notion that only certain types of men are capable of this violence. These men are presented as being mentally unstable but unlike the very elderly perpetrators this is not used to generate sympathy for them, quite the opposite. Mental illness in the comparatively “younger” men is used to present them as a threat/danger. However, mental disorders and medication were also used to explain/justify the violence.

A man in his sixties, previously convicted of sending death threats to a woman, was described as a “nut”5 is thought to have been placed in a “home for troubled adults”5. As part of the defence for the man charged with stalking Jemima Khan was to suggest his medication for skin cancer caused him to commit the crime whilst other articles referred to his bipolar disorder8+9.

Frequently old age is used as a shock factor in VAW is to suggest elderly men are less likely perpetrators of VAW as they are presented as less able than their younger peers when this is not true. Every man is capable of committing VAW therefore it is important the media does not present some men as more or less likely culprits and begins to recognise all men who commit these crimes as a danger.

Media reporting and violence against women: why we need to talk about the Navy

This blog is the second in a series in which Claire Simpson, PhD student at the University of Stirling discusses the results of her media monitoring project.  Over the next few weeks we will publish blogs from Claire where she takes in an in depth look at some of the results of her study. 

You can read Claire’s first blog here.

As part of a series of blogs based on a week’s monitoring of Scottish newspaper coverage of VAW I can safely say: we need to talk about the Navy. The Royal Navy featured prominently during my focus week attracting both positive and negative press relating to different forms of VAW. 5 articles reported on an alleged rape by a Navy sailor and a further 3 discussed the Navy’s ban on the display of pornographic images in cabins.

A male sailor was accused of raping a woman whilst she slept. Four of the five columns mention that the woman was drunk, doing little to dispel myths and stereotypes surrounding rape and the culture of victim blaming. Every article begins with the phrase “A Royal Navy officer/sailor…”1-5 instantly making the focus of the article the perpetrator and not the survivor. Defining him as part of the armed forces from the start instantly shows the man in a positive light as he fights for our country.

Only one article4 provides a statement from the woman involved, where she explains due to shock and fear she was unable to pull up her pants and pyjama bottoms after the attack. The newspaper could have included testimony from Rape Crisis Scotland (RCS), or another woman’s organisation, at this point to validate the survivor’s behaviour. RCS6 recently launched their “I Just Froze” campaign which aims to distinguish freezing as a legitimate and instinctive response to an attack, challenging the presumption that fight or flight are the only correct reactions to trauma. The newspaper missed a valuable opportunity to highlight this little-understood fact.

All of the stories focus on the actions and background of the perpetrator and all mention how apologetic and remorseful he was afterwards by referencing his texts to his mother detailing his regret. Some of the articles reference the apology he sent to the survivor in a bid to “placate”4 her. Not only did this apology form part of his defence in court but it was presented by the press as an attempt to repair the pain and damage he had inflicted. An apology won’t undo the action. An apology does not mean justice has been served. An apology does not mean the attacker is really a good person who made a mistake. Three articles appeared to further ‘excuse’ the rapist noting he is a sex addict and has attended addiction meetings. This inclusion perpetuates the myth of rape as an act of lost control. Rape is about exerting power and control over the victim. Providing any justification for rape, especially if it suggests it was due to provocation or loss of control, benefits the rapist as it implies the rape was unplanned and accidental therefore shifting blame on to the victim.

In the same week The Royal Navy instigated a ban on pornographic images on its vessels and bases to promote a more inclusive, less intimidating work environment for its sailors. If a sailor disobeys the restriction they may face charges of sexual harassment. The use of gender stereotypes is prevalent in reporting on this issue. Only one column, that in The Times7, specifically mentions the ban is for both male and female images whilst the articles in the Daily Mail8+9 only discuss the prohibition with reference to female photographs. The ban is presented as only being for the benefit of women. None of them acknowledge that men could be equally outraged, or threatened, by pornographic images.

The gender inequality is further demonstrated by the press through female sailors never being referred to as such. The word ‘sailor’ is used when discussing the ban on images strongly suggesting that sailors are men whilst women in the Navy are only ever referred to as “recruits”7, “comrades”, “staff”8 or “colleagues”9. This reinforces the notion of the Navy as a masculine profession and to some extent casts a shadow over the positive step towards equality. Each article portrays the display of pornographic images of women on Navy vessels as a long-standing tradition being brought to an end in the name of gender equality. Indeed one column in the Daily Mail9 justifies the presence of nude pictures as a form of companionship during the difficult time at sea and states if a woman takes issue with such then she is not fit to serve in the Navy. Pornography is not a necessity for sailors to be able to do their jobs. To ridicule those believing in gender equality, fighting for an end to the sexualisation and objectification of women is insulting and belittles the issues. These attitudes are why media monitoring is crucial in the fight to dispel myths and stereotypes regarding VAW and for the equal representation and treatment of women by the media.

 1. West, A., 2017. Sailor’s Text from Mum of ‘Rape’ Girl. The Scottish Sun, 22 Feb. p4…
2. Taylor, C-A., 2017. Sailor is Cleared of ‘Rape in Sleep’. The Scottish Sun, 23 Feb. p11
3. Mirror., 2017. ‘Rapist Told Mum of Guilt’. Daily Mirror, 21 Feb. p4
4. Camber, R., 2017. She was Asleep and Drunk…I had Sex with Her. Scottish Daily Mail, 21 Feb. p5
5. Times., 2017. Texts ‘Admitted Rape’. The Times Scotland, 21 Feb. p4
6. Rape Crisis Scotland, 2017. I Just Froze.;
7. Kenber, B., 2017. Royal Navy Bans Pin-ups Below Decks. The Times Scotland, 20 Feb. p24…
8. Mail., 2017. Navy Orders End to Sailors’ Sexy Pin-ups. Scottish Daily Mail, 20 Feb. p24
9. Vine, S., 2017. N/A. Scottish Daily Mail, 22 Feb. p18

Media representation of violence against women: what’s the situation in Scotland?

This blog is the first in a series in which Claire Simpson, PhD student at the University of Stirling discusses the results of her media monitoring project. Over the next three weeks we will publish blogs from Claire where she takes in an in depth look at some of the results of her study.

As part of my Masters degree in Gender Studies at the University of Stirling, I have recently undertaken a placement with Zero Tolerance to analyse representations of violence against women (VAW) in the Scottish press. I studied eight national newspapers – The Scottish Sun, Scottish Daily Mirror, The Scottish Times, Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman, The Scottish Herald, The Scottish Daily Express and The Scottish Telegraph – for one week, reading every article relating to VAW and using ZT’s Handle with Care guide to determine good and bad practice.

Download Handle With Care here

I had some preconceptions about what I would find before starting this project. I thought tabloids would sensationalise the violence with overly dramatic or humorous headlines, whilst broadsheets may underreport domestic cases of VAW opting to focus on “bigger” stories with international scope. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found in some cases and unpleasantly outraged by others.

A total of 134 stories on VAW appeared, averaging 2.4 stories per newspaper per day. Tabloids covered twice as many stories as the broadsheets with The Sun reporting the most: 33 cases, and The Scotsman and The Herald the least: a paltry 8. When 1 in 3 women globally will experience some form of VAW it is difficult to comprehend how so few of these incidents are reported by some papers.

Surprisingly, for me at least, the Daily Mail afforded VAW reports the most page space, almost 3 in 5 stories filled over quarter of a page, whilst the same is true for 55% of articles in the Daily Express. Indeed, tabloids generally awarded more space to incidents of VAW than broadsheets. However, out of the 134 articles, only 7 contained some form of statistical evidence with 4 newspapers using no contextual data and only 1 article referring to VAW as a public health concern.

“We need women’s voices to speak on women’s issues to better represent VAW and empower survivors.”

The Daily Mail contained the most articles written by women, at least with respect to stories of VAW, with 18 women being credited. In all other newspapers more male journalists wrote on VAW than women. This could go some way to explaining the poor reporting, women’s experiences are being explained and framed from a male perspective. We need women’s voices to speak on women’s issues to better represent VAW and empower survivors. The most frequently reported form of VAW was murder. With 2-3 women in the UK being murdered by their partners every week this is unsurprising1. However, my statistics will have been slightly inflated due to the widespread coverage of Helen Bailey’s murder trial with all papers mentioning the case on several occasions throughout the week. The popularity of this high-profile case is also why the most prevalent explanation given for VAW was financial by 5 of the newspapers, which includes all of the broadsheets.

One of the more worrying statistics was that an average of 1 in 5 articles provided a justification for the perpetrator’s actions. 1 in 3 stories in The Sun portrayed VAW as justifiable – the most frequent reason given being that the perpetrator believed the victim had consented.  Thankfully however there were some instances of good reporting. None of the articles in The Scotsman or The Herald provided any justifications or blamed the victim.

In the vast majority of articles, women were described as a ‘victim’ rather than ‘survivor’. This reinforces the most commonly used adjectives for women – ‘weak’, ‘vulnerable’ or similar. Despite 55 stories discussing the relationship between spouses – the most common type of relationship examined – only 2 articles characterised the reported VAW as domestic violence. It is statistically improbable that out of 134 stories, 132 were one-off, random acts of VAW. Some articles mentioned the perpetrator being controlling, manipulative or aggressive but did not define this behaviour as likely being part of a pattern of domination and intimidation.

“To take away the label is to empower the perpetrator by displaying the violence as a one off, whilst disempowering the woman by not accurately reporting the true extent of her suffering.”

Why is there such a reluctance by the Scottish press to label the violence for what it is? Domestic abuse. This lack of acknowledgement contributes to the poor understanding as to what constitutes domestic abuse. To take away the label is to empower the perpetrator by displaying the violence as a one off, whilst disempowering the woman by not accurately reporting the true extent of her suffering. Without defining the violence as such, how will people learn what constitutes domestic abuse and how prevalent it is in our society. Women’s Aid1 report, on average, that every thirty seconds a 999 call is made to the police pertaining to domestic abuse. The Crime Survey of England and Wales 2013/141 shows over a quarter of women have been subject to domestic abuse from 16 years old. Domestic abuse is happening in our society. We need to talk about it in order to stop it.

1. Women’s Aid, How common is domestic abuse?…