Blog Post: We Are Not Clickbait: Journalist's responsibility in reporting violence against ethnic minority women
‘Violence against women of colour is only reported on if we’re dead or used as clickbait.’
- Nyla Khan
Zero Tolerance is campaigning to improve media coverage of violence against women and girls. As a part of our media project, we organised an event for journalists and editors to explore reporting violence against minority ethnic women. This blog summarises a contribution from one of our speakers – Nyla Khan, CEO of Universal Truth and survivor of forced marriage who uses her own experience to effect change.
Nyla has been campaigning to raise awareness on the issue of forced marriage for many years and has been interviewed by the media several times. She emphasised the lack of coverage of violence against minority ethnic women and argued that journalists often avoid reporting on issues around ‘honour-based’ abuse, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation for the sake of ‘cultural sensitivity.’
This results in them failing to challenge racist, discriminatory, and misogynistic stereotypes of ethnic minority women.
A case study of Nyla’s interaction with a major media outlet
Nyla was approached by a national TV broadcaster to discuss her experience of forced marriage. The broadcaster did not inform her of potential negative consequences of sharing her story and she decided to reveal her identity. An unexpected consequence was the reach of the broadcast globally and the number of people who reached out to her following the interview.
Nyla was optimistic that taking part in this interview would help educate people about the issue of forced marriage and encourage survivors to seek help, but instead it caused harm.
The media twisted her story to sensationalise it. They used race-baiting headlines: headlines designed to evoke racism and anger about race related issues. They misrepresented the facts and made false claims around her religious practices. All this distracted from the actual issue of forced marriage that Nyla wished to highlight.
The media’s misrepresentation of Nyla’s story caused backlash from her community who felt this interview was an attack on their religion and cultural identity. For months after the broadcast, Nyla received online abuse and threats but what weighed the most was the emotional cost involved to losing her family again. The interview was seen as an attack on them and their family traditions and culture.
This was not a setback for Nyla, nor did it negatively affect her as she has been standing up for herself and forced marriage victims for +16 years, which has given her the strength and resilience to stand firm and confident ahead of challenges and abuse such as these. Nonetheless, Nyla is a rare exception among such victims and in a majority of cases, such abuse would have had negative impacts on a person’s mental and emotional wellbeing.
How can the media improve their approaches when working with victim-survivors?
Nyla calls for journalists to be aware of their role in shaping the public’s understanding of violence against women.
Survivors face difficulties when speaking out. Nyla calls for more support for victim-survivors before, during, and after interviews. The media has an ethical duty to inform interviewees about a potential consequence of revealing their identity.
She insists that if journalists require survivor stories, they should not approach and take advantage of women who have little or no experience of the media. Instead, they should contact people who are in a safe position to speak out, such as activists who’ve elected to use their experiences to create change or workers within the women’s sector.
The ‘Pass the mic’ campaign run by Women of Colour Commentators in Scotland is a perfect example of women who are willing to be contacted and to speak about these sensitive issues.
Journalists and editors have a responsibility to properly report on violence against ethnic minority women. This starts with not sensationalising stories and using clickbait headlines and involves treating victim-survivors with compassion and respect.
How to report on violence against ethnic minority women responsibly:
- Commit to writing more about violence against ethnic minority women and diverse stories — not just on International Women’s Day or during Black History month.
- Publish positive stories of ethnic minority women who survived abuse to avoid stereotyping, misrepresentation, or belittling survivors.
- Use and share our media guidelines on violence against women.
- Think about how you can better support interviewees (aftercare packages).
- Build relationships with women’s organisations that are experts on VAWG and that support ethnic minority women. We have a directory of contacts within the women’s sector.
- Don’t stigmatise any ethnic, cultural, or racial group.
- Include helplines at the end of articles. We have a list of helplines on our website.
Nyla Khan - with over 13 years of experience in social services in Scotland is a lived experience leader, forced marriage survivor, campaigner to end forced marriage and founder of Universal Truth - aftercare service for ethnic minority women who are moving from abuse - specifically from forced marriages.
Her debut book (still in progress) ‘Privilege To Love’ chronicles her lived experience of forced marriage and subsequent experiences of isolation and rejection from within her community. With this book, she received a bursary and is now a graduate of HarperCollins Author Academy.
Nyla has been interviewed by BBC Scotland, BBC Radio Scotland as well as The Scotsman and Edinburgh Evening News where they reached audiences all over the world.