The balance fallacy: Wooden Spoon Award

This presentation was given by Zero Tolerance’s 2016 Bursary Winner, Annie McLaughlin as part of the 2017 awards ceremony. 

Tonight, we celebrate journalists and writers who play a vital role in furthering public understanding of violence against women. Their work confronts the myths that perpetuate abuse and shines a light on the systemic gender inequality that underpins it.

The Write to End Violence Against Women awards are a welcome opportunity to highlight what can be achieved when journalists give due care and attention to the complexity and continuum of gender based violence.

Over the past few months, the wide media coverage of sexual harassment, assault and abuse and resulting ‘#metoo’ campaign on social media have had a huge impact in illuminating the scale and spectrum of violence against women.

The sheer volume and weight of women’s experiences of abuse has been overwhelming. Good journalism of the kind we recognise tonight has done much to highlight the abuse of male power that lies at the heart of those experiences.

But, we know that there are still too many corners of the media where misrepresentation of the issues leads to irresponsible reporting that reinforces the attitudes that enable gender based violence.

And so, we reach the point in the evening where we shine a light on those corners in the hope that we can highlight areas for improvement, drive up standards and drive out myths.

The Wooden Spoon Award.

For the past few years, Zero Tolerance have elected to award the Wooden Spoon to a theme, rather than to an individual journalist or article. This recognises and highlights the collective responsibility of writers to represent the issues responsibly.

Read Kirsty Strickland’s Wooden Spoon presentation for the 2016 Write Awards

This year, the award highlights a particularly pervasive and insidious tendency in some media reporting on violence against women. The tendency to give the impression that there is an equal balance, or moral equivalence, between the narratives and experiences of women and those of their abusers.

A tendency we can call ‘the balance fallacy’.

Regardless of the current ‘hot topic’ in media reporting on gender based violence, the balance fallacy raises its ugly head repeatedly.

Time and again, writers and broadcasters will choose to amplify the voices of those who seek to blame women for the violence committed against them or to diminish their experiences by claiming that there are ‘two sides to every story’.

It’s an approach that ignores the reality of violence against women and girls in favour of straw man arguments, that seek to lay the blame for the abuse of women anywhere other than at the feet of abusers.

Inevitably, violence against women campaigners are forced to waste precious column inches and air time knocking down those arguments, time that could be so much better spent educating the public on how we can work together to put an end to gender based violence.

The assumption that all journalism requires opposing views to be treated as equally valid simply does not hold when the overwhelming weight of evidence and experience points firmly in one direction.

Let’s be clear: there are no two sides when it comes to revealing the scale and spectrum of violence committed against women simply because they are women.

If recent revelations have reminded us of anything, it’s that ‘official’ statistics on the prevalence of abuse only tell part of the story. The ‘#metoo’ campaign has been so powerful and affecting partly because we know that for every woman who does speak out, so many more do not or cannot.

It is completely misguided to attempt to create ‘balance’ or a debate where there should be no room for doubt. Reporting which reinforces the myth that violence against women is a ‘grey area’ reduces the rape, murder and abuse of women to a game of ‘he said, she said’.

There are, unfortunately, many examples of the balance fallacy to choose from this year, but I’d like to highlight just a few.

A common trope is that women should in some way share the blame for violence perpetrated against them. That we have to somehow balance the abusive acts of men against the behaviour of the women they attack.

In March this year, rape survivor Megan Clark waived her right to remain anonymous, in a televised interview with the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire. Her testimony was an important insight into the attitudes that prevent women survivors from seeking justice and support.

Derbyshire asked Megan to respond to comments made by the judge who presided over the trial of her rapist. Lindsey Kushner QC was accused of victim blaming by violence against women organisations, after she suggested that women should protect themselves against rape by not getting drunk.

Megan’s response was a qualified one. She said that she understood why the judge said what she did and that she did not necessarily think it was victim blaming.

Heartbreakingly, though, she admitted that she did not think she would feel able to report a rape again, because she was made to feel partly responsible for her attack when she shared her story with others.

There was the story, waiting to be told. A sobering insight into the real-life impact of victim blaming on survivors’ access to support and justice.

When the interview hit the headlines, however, it’s fair to say that the slant was rather different.

Wooden Spoon presentation

Overwhelmingly, the reports completely ignored the bulk of the interview and jumped on Clark’s comments as some sort of vindication of victim blaming, the ‘last word’ in a debate on women’s culpability for rape that should not even exist.

The Daily Mail’s headline announced, with an almost palpable sense of glee: “Manchester rape victim said drinking warning was right.”

The Guardian went with: “Woman who was raped backs judge over alcohol warning”, The Independent: “Rape victim says judge was right to say she put herself in danger by being drunk”.

Such coverage perpetuates harmful attitudes about sexual violence that are consistently brought into courts and jury rooms and form an obstacle to obtaining convictions.

Wooden Spoon presentation 2

Another all too common myth perpetuated by the balance fallacy is the idea that violence against women is some sort of ‘grey area’.

This typically presents itself in opinion pieces that label serious allegations of abuse as ‘moral panic’. Columns that warn we are hurtling towards a dystopian future in which men will be afraid to speak to a woman lest they be accused of harassment.

In the Telegraph last month, at least two columnists claimed that allegations of sexual harassment and assault in Westminster amount to a ‘witch hunt’, against men who have simply ‘pushed the envelope’ that little bit too far in their natural pursuit of the opposite sex.

witch hunt

Let’s ignore, for a moment, the irony of using the term ‘witch hunt’ to drum up sympathy for male perpetrators of sexual assault. A term which largely refers to the systematic and prolonged torture and murder of women.

The dangerous message here is that if a woman is assaulted or harassed, she should first stop and consider the impact on her abuser should she report.  It ignores the truth that the lines between ‘flirting’ and abuse have never been blurred except in the minds of men who want them to be, and who are angry that the spotlight is now shining in their direction.

The concept of “balance” has long been a key foundation of journalism and, in many cases, it is a vital and necessary consideration. But attempts to engineer false balance by creating moral equivalency between abusers and abused serves no one, least of all survivors already facing multiple barriers to achieving justice and support.

When we frame violence against women as some kind of murky moral maze, in which women must share responsibility with their attackers, we allow abuse to continue unchecked.

This year’s Wooden Spoon goes to ‘the balance fallacy’, and those who perpetuate it.

Because the prevalence of gender based violence is not up for ‘debate’. Because we do not need ‘devil’s advocates’ to defend abusers and their right to abuse. We need advocates like those we recognise tonight, who use their voices and talents in the fight to stamp out violence against women.

Annie McLaughlin was the 2016 Write to End Violence Against Women Awards busary winner. You can read her excellent writing for the Sunday Herald here

For more excellent writing on the ‘false balance fallacy’, writing which inspired this topic, read below:

Kirsty Strickland, The National: Repetition of dangerous rape myths has no place in a responsible debate

Alys Mumford, Engender: Why There Aren’t Always Two Sides to Every Story

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Winners of the 2017 Write to End Violence Against Women Awards

A huge thank you to all of you who attended the 2017 Write Awards last night. We were thrilled to see such a packed event with so many people passionate about good media representation about violence against women.

Our compère Kainde Manji did a fantastic job of coordinating the ceremony and keeping things running smoothly.

We would like to give thanks to our wonderful MSP Sponsor Monica Lennon and speaker Jeane Freeman MSP; it is wonderful to have MSPs who are actively and vocally challenging the narrative that says violence against women is ever acceptable. Huge thanks as well to our wonderful panel of judges and of course all the writers who entered this year’s competition.

Zero Tolerance is supported in the running of the Write Awards by White Ribbon Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, Engender, Everyday Victim Blaming, Women 50:50, Rape Crisis Scotland, Women for Independence and the Scottish Refugee Council and media partner, The Sunday Herald newspaper.

We are grateful to our 2017 sponsors, NUJ Scotland and the University of Strathclyde.

We’ll be posting more about the awards in the coming weeks, so please keep an eye out – for now please enjoy the excellent articles that winners of this year’s awards.

Winner of Best Article – News

Annie Brown, Daily Record

Island rape victims forced to endure second hell due to lack of local forensic facilities

Winner of Best Article – Feature

Vicky Allan, The Sunday Herald

Domestic abuse: This article will upset you but it is vital that you read it

Best Blog and Comment

Talat Yaqoob, Women 5050

“Just Ignore It”

Best article – Student and Young Person

Polly Smythe and Niamh Anderson, The Student

Domestic abuse is happening at university. So why don’t we talk about it?

Gender Equality Awards 2017: Creative Writing

Erin Kelly

3 Poems; Silence, Deep Water, Survive

Read Erin’s wonderful poems on page 63 – 65 of our booklet.

Wooden Spoon

Rather than award “worst article” or wooden spoon to a particular article, the organisers have decided to award this year’s Wooden Spoon to a theme. This recognises the shortcomings of representation as a whole, rather than singling out one individual journalist.

The Wooden Spoon award was presented by Annie McLaughlin, our 2016 Write to End Violence Against Women bursary winner and we will be publishing a transcript of her presentation before Christmas.

 

The Write to End Violence Against Women Awards 2017

trophies.jpg

On Thursday 7th December we will celebrate the winners of this year’s Write to End Violence Against Women Awards.

There’s still time to register for tickets – sign up here!

We are delighted to welcome Monica Lennon MSP, who is our sponsor for the evening as well as Minister for Social Security Jeane Freeman.

We will also be joined by the producers of On the Engender – Scotland’s feminist policy podcast, produced by Engender and featuring the voices of experts from across Scotland’s women’s sector. They will be looking to speak to people throughout the night for future episodes – give them a listen here.

We look forward to welcoming our shortlisted writers, our 2017 panel of judges, our steering group, journalists, MSPs and members of the women’s sector.

Read the shortlisted articles here

Find out more about our 2017 panel of judges

For those of you not able to attend on the 7th, we will be tweeting about the event with the hashtag #WritetoEndVAW so please follow along! @WritetoEndVAW

 2017 Write to End Violence Against Women Awards

The Garden Lobby, Scottish Parliament 2017

17:30 – 19:30

Advised arrival time: 17:00

Drinks and canapes provided on reception

Zero Tolerance is supported in the running of the Write Awards by White Ribbon Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, Engender, Everyday Victim Blaming, Women 50:50, Rape Crisis Scotland, Women for Independence and the Scottish Refugee Council and media partner, The Sunday Herald newspaper.

We are grateful to our 2017 sponsors, NUJ Scotland and the University of Strathclyde.

SHORTLIST ANNOUNCED FOR THE 2017 AWARDS

We are delighted to announce the shortlist for the 2017 Write to End Violence Against Women Awards.

This year we received a wonderful range of submissions across all the categories. These were reviewed by a panel to form the shortlist below. To read more about what we were looking for when we reviews submissions, read Handle with Care, our guide for journalists.

We look forward to welcoming all the shortlisted authors to the awards ceremony on Thursday 7th December, where the winners will be announced.

Best Article – News

Island rape victims forced to endure second hell due to lack of local forensic facilities
Annie Brown

“Years of my life stolen because of abuse” Woman speaks of abuse hell
Sandra Dick

Hundreds of sex trafficking victims found and helped in Glasgow as numbers rise
Hannah Rodger

Pioneering Violence Against Women project backed by mother of student victim
Caitlin Logan

US ditches controversial rape clause and family cap welfare policies
Judith Duffy

Best Article – Feature 

Paul Nuttall’s burqa ban seems to forget that the public are more at risk from white men than Muslim women
Kirsty Strickland

Why sex for rent is not a deal like any other
Vonny Leclerc

“Bring me my scooter so I can leave you” (This article was published in PosAbility magazine)
Niki Tennant 

Domestic abuse: This article will upset you but it is vital that you read it
Vicky Allan

Rape: the victims’ stories (This is a four part series – read here Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)
Hannah Rodger

Best Blog/Comment

News Blackout – Why Aren’t Black British Women Treated Fairly In the Media?
Layla-Roxane Hill

‘Joanne’
Inside Outside 

Why the dialogue on street harassment needs to remain open
Lindsay Linning

“Just Ignore It”
Talat Yaqoob

A week of male violence
Kirsty Strickland

Best Article – Student & Young Person

Philip Davies fails us as an MP by ignoring complex power structures
Clea Skopeliti

Domestic abuse is happening at university. So why don’t we talk about it?
Polly Smythe and Niamh Anderson

Inside the hospitality industry: a culture of harassment
Richard Joseph with Meilan Solly and Jonathon Skavroneck

Ched Evans’ aquittal shows lack of progress in social response to rape
Rachel Joint

Gender Equality Award 2017: Creative Writing

You can read all creative writing pieces in our booklet 

The Woman I do not Know (page 60 – 62)
Lorna Hill

3 poems (page 63 – 65)
Erin Kelly

Sarcasm against the patriarchy (page 66)
Caitriona Large

Consequence (page 67 – 72)
Charlotte Platt 

3 poems (page 73 – 75)
Anila Mirza

Wooden Spoon

This year’s wooden spoon award will be announced at the ceremony.

New sponsors for Write to End Violence Against Women Awards

We are thrilled to announce that both the National Union of Journalists (Scotland) and Strathclyde University will be sponsoring awards at this year’s Write to End Violence Against Women Awards.

The NUJ Scotland will be sponsoring our ‘Best Article – News’ category

The union represents a broad range of media professionals and works for journalists in all sectors of the media as freelancers, casuals and staff in newspapers, news agencies, broadcasting, magazines, online, book publishing, in public relations, communications, and as photographers. NUJ Scotland has been working to shine a light on the issue of women’s representation both by the media and in the media. Read more here.

Find out more about the NUJ – Scotland on the website. Follow them on Twitter here.

The University of Strathclyde will be sponsoring the Best Article – Student & Young Person category.

A spokesperson at Strathclyde University said, “Strathclyde University takes pride in “useful learning” that engages fully with the community. Our media, journalism and creative writing programmes produce award-winning practitioners who shape the field in Scotland and beyond. From 2018 we are excited to offer new, interdisciplinary postgraduate programmes in Applied Gender Studies with Strathclyde Feminist Network.” 

Find out more about the University of Strathclyde on the website. Follow on Twitter and like on Facebook.

 

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