Spotlight on the Scottish Media: Non-physical abuse

9 newspapers, 5 days, 64 stories of physical violence, 11 stories of non-physical violence

This June, Zero Tolerance Project Support Intern Nikki Chung 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.

From Monday 28th January 2019 to Friday 1st February 2019 I gathered 9 newspapers per day, and 45 newspapers in total. These newspapers included The Scottish Sun, The Scottish Daily Mirror, The Scottish Times, The Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman, The Scottish Herald, The Scottish Daily Express, The Scottish Telegraph, and The Guardian. I analysed these newspapers to look at media representations of men’s violence against women.

I’ve written four blogs posts to report my findings. The first blog gives an overview of what I’ve found; this blog is about non-physical abuse; the third blog looks at whose voices are heard and who gets to be a perpetrator?; and the fourth focuses on the language used to report on violence against women.

Violence against women can happen to Any woman, Anywhere and is not always physical. It happens to women in public spaces (e.g. on the train, clubs, bars), as well as online or in private spaces (e.g. in the house). Violence can include street harassment (e.g. getting cat called), controlling behavior in a relationship (such as psychological, coercive control), sexual harassment at work (inappropriate comments), online abuse (e.g. trolls and misogynistic comments about appearance and race), or stalking. This is well illustrated by the Power and Control Wheel that shows some of the forms of violence women can experience.

It was disappointing that the stories covered did not reflect this. 85.3% of the stories on violence against women were reports on physical abuse compared to just only 14.7% of non-physical abuse. One report wrote about a perpetrator using a spy cam. Six out of 75 stories about the online trolling of Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton. And three out of 75 stories were about a man who stalked Kylie Minogue.

topic of the story

It may have been the case that there were simply more stories to report on physical and non-physical violence during that week. But regardless, focusing on physical abuse can reinforce the common misconception that violence is only physical. This can prevent victims from recognising that they are experiencing violence and therefore they may be less likely to come forward to seek help or report the crime.

When reporting on physical violence, journalists can also mention that this violence rarely comes ‘out of the blue’. For example, before murder by a partner or ex-partner there is often a pattern of controlling behavior. This is now a criminal offense under the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act: find out more here. It can involve derogatory and controlling comments, obsessively asking the victim where they are, and recording and keeping track of the amount of time they have spent with their friends or family. By giving context to the violence that happened before, women will may be able relate to this experience and seek help. Only one report out of the 75 stories mentioned non-physical abuse in a domestic abuse setting.

One Thousand Words

In collaboration with Scottish Women’s Aid, Zero Tolerance launched One Thousand Words in 2017. They are free to use stock images that illustrate domestic abuse. The pictures do not feature bruises or cuts but instead focus on the impact that domestic abuse has on women and challenges the myth that it is always physical.


  1. Report on all forms of abuse – both physical and non-physical abuse and tell the full story. When writing about murder, report on the domestic abuse that could have led up to it.
  2. Use statistics – accompany the story with statistics to show the prevalence of violence against women.
  3. Include helplines (also listed below) – victims, and friends and family of victims may know someone who is experiencing domestic abuse. A story on domestic abuse that includes helplines may enable a woman to seek help.
  4. Choose images carefully – use images that show the impact of violence against women and challenge the myth that it is always physical. Find our free stock images here.


  • You can find our Handle with Care guide for information on how to responsibly report on violence against women
  • Learn more about violence against women through a free online course delivered by the University of Strathclyde
  • Luke and Ryan Hart share their story of domestic abuse on Twitter and focuses on changing media representations of domestic abuse


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.

The helpline is normally open from 6pm to midnight, 7 days a week, and offers free and confidential initial and crisis support and information.


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.

Media Monitoring

This is an annual project - see previous year's findings here.

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.


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Zero Tolerance's Media Guidelines on Violence Against Women and Girls for PrintZero Tolerance's Media Guidelines on Violence Against Women and Girls for Print Zero Tolerance's media guidelines on violence against women and girls are for journalists, editors, and other media professionals.