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Media Monitoring: Reporting the impact of COVID-19 on violence against women

This April, our Project Support Intern Saffron, is blogging about her media monitoring project during the COVID-19 Lockdown. She has monitored 10 Scottish news sites for the first 7 days of Lockdown (24 – 30 March) and analysed their coverage of violence against women.

In the first week of lockdown, 6 out of the 10 major newspapers investigated acknowledged the links between the Coronavirus lockdown and increases in domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women.

Newspaper reporting on violence against women is essential, especially during a crisis in which it is can be harder for women to access support and when attention is drawn to away to focus on the crisis.

There were 9 stories in total about violence against women and Coronavirus. None of these articles were found on the ‘front page’ of any of the websites.

Most of the articles were largely written in response to Women’s Aid’s callout emphasising the impact lockdown would have on women experiencing domestic abuse. This impact includes increased exposure to their abusers, hotline surges and waiting times, and lack of access to women’s refuge centres.

 

Bad Headline, Good Helplines

The reporting varied, from very limited coverage - from just publishing a press release from Camilla Parker Bowles in support of women suffering from domestic abuse at this time - to vivid stories of domestic abuse in isolation.

This was exemplified in The Sun’s ‘ISOLATED IN HELL Shot, ‘strangled’ & stamped on – Coronavirus is our worst nightmare after years of torture at hands of abusers’ (25/03).

Although the headline sensationalised the details of the abuse suffered, the article itself provided lots of information on seeking help and support than many of the pieces with less graphic headlines.

 

Humour trivialises murder threats


Another article in The Sun also had a sensationalised headline: ‘NOT SO ‘APPY As millions of single Brits stay home women reveal dating app horror stories – from d*** pics to ‘I’ll cook you’ threat’ (30/03).

This headline is particularly irresponsible as the use of humour trivialises the real fear that death threats cause and the danger that women are in.

Discussion of the dangers dating apps can pose to women, particularly during this time of isolation, is essential but this article was extremely disappointing. It contained vast examples of women suffering all kinds of harassment and stalking, and yet provided no helpline, helpful conclusion, or reference to this being cause by gender inequality.

 

Domestic abuse is not always physical


Only one article spoke about the reality of domestic abuse existing in many forms – not just physical but “a pattern of controlling, threatening and coercive behaviour, which can also be emotional, economic, psychological or sexual.”

This was in the Telegraph article, ‘Neighbours urged to ‘look out for each other’ and spot signs of domestic abuse during lockdown’ (29/03)

No other article found had any kind of definition of domestic abuse or violence against women.

This article also stood out as it had extended information on where to find help.

However, the articles focus of suggesting that neighbours look out for each other during social distancing, is tricky. It both puts responsibility for stopping domestic abuse onto someone who is not the perpetrator, whilst also giving a very vague ideas about what ‘help’ is possible during this period of isolation and social distancing.

 

Other forms of violence against women in lockdown

Two articles (one from The Guardian and one The Daily Mail) spoke about the increase in online porn consumption during isolation and the dangers this may pose to both increases in domestic abuse and sex trafficking.

Despite their wide claims on the potential impacts of porn sites offering free services due to increase in traffic, neither article provided any information on where to find help and support for those at risk of trafficking or suffering from abuse.

 

Disappointing overall

Largely, the articles were disappointing. Coverage of the impacts of lockdown on domestic abuse is essential, and yet most of these articles were weakly put forth and lacked the actual understanding of violence against women that is necessary for offering coverage or advice surrounding it. Though, overall, the number of helplines across this year’s project have increased from former years, the quality of reporting has not substantially improved.

 

Recommendations

  • Stories about violence against women should include helplines. It can save lives. Copy and paste them from here.
  • Violence should not be sensationalised with graphic details or trivialised with humour. To end violence against women we must take it seriously.
  • Articles should acknowledge that violence against women is an epidemic in itself by using statistics or quotes from women’s organisations to talk about the scale of the problem.
  • Excuses must not be made for perpetrators of violence. Men are not violence toward women because of alcohol, lost football matches, or because of isolation due to the pandemic. Men who are violent do so because they make choices to be violent.
  • Violence against women is not a “private” or “women’s” issue. It is a societal problem that can only be solved by challenging the culture of gender inequality that allows it to continue.

Social distancing and isolation have a massive impact on all of our lives, but as ever it is women who are disproportionately affected. There are still many ways to seek help and support during this pandemic.

 

Police Scotland

999 – Emergency 101 – Non-Emergency

Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline

0800 027 1234 - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Free and confidential service for anyone of any gender who has experienced domestic abuse or forced marriage.

helpline@ndafmhs.org.uk (response within 2 days by email)

Rape Crisis Scotland Helpline

08088 01 03 02 - between 6pm and midnight every night or by email support@rapecrisisscotland.org.uk

Full details of access to support for people who are deaf or hard of hearing can be found at https://www.rapecrisisscotland.org.uk/help-deaf-access-to-support/

We can arrange for language interpreters.

Free and confidential support and information for anyone, women and men, affected by sexual violence, no matter when or how it happened.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) helpline (run by NSPCC)

0800 028 3550 - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Free and confidential help for anyone who is worried a child is at risk of, or has had, FGM.

Childline

0800 11 11 - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Free and confidential service to help anyone under 19 in the UK with any issue they’re going through.

Email and online chat available https://www.childline.org.uk

Respect Phoneline

0808 802 4040 - 9am-5pm - Monday-Friday

Free and confidential service for anyone who is concerned about their own behaviour towards their partner (male, female, in heterosexual or same-sex relationships).

Amina Muslim Women’s Resource Centre

0808 801 0301 - 10am-4pm, Monday to Friday

Help for women in English, Urdu, Arabic, Punjabi, Bangli and Swahili and, when required, using online interpreting.

Shakti Women’s Aid

0131 475 2399 - 9.30am-4pm - Monday to Friday

Help for black and minority ethnic (BME) women, children and young people who are experiencing, or who have experienced, domestic abuse.

Scottish Women's Rights Centre

Phone: 08088 010 789

Help for self-identifying women aged 16 and over affected by violence and abuse by providing free legal information and advice through helpline, legal surgeries and ongoing casework.

Legal information
Monday 2 - 5 pm
Tuesday6 - 8 pm
Wednesday11 am - 2 pm
Friday10 am - 1 pm

Advocacy support
Tuesday 11 am - 2 pm

Sexual harassment
Thursday 5 - 8 pm

National Stalking Helpline

Phone: 0808 802 0300

This is a confidential service if you're impacted by stalking. They'll provide impartial advice and information to men and women, including:

how to identify if you're being stalked

the law on stalking

how to protect yourself

talking to the police

Victim Support Scotland

Phone: 0800 160 1985

Gives free and confidential support to men and women, and practical help for victims and witnesses of crime.

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