Spotlight on the Scottish Media: Why language matters
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 based on my findings. The first blog was an overview of what I have found; the second blog is about non-physical abuse; the third looks at whose voices are heard and who gets to be a perpetrator; and this blog focuses on the language used to report violence against women.
13 stories out of 75 used inaccurate language to frame violence against women. For instance, one report titled the story “Raped by brute she tried to help”. This story was about a woman who was raped by a man in Glasgow. The word ‘brute’ in this example as well as other words such as ‘fiend’, ‘monster’ and ‘evil’, distort the view that perpetrators are ‘normal’ men. As the Zero Tolerance’s Handle with Care guide notes: “men who rape, commit sexual violence or domestic abuse are ordinary men, usually someone’s dad, brother, uncle or friend”. Thus, it is important to frame the perpetrator as someone who is ‘normal’, rather than attaching a name to them.
There was another news article with the title “Ambushed by blade wielding sex beast”, which reported that a man raped a woman near Methil. Similarly, to the title above, the phrase “sex beast” is inaccurate. It implies that the perpetrator is not an ordinary man, when in fact sexual violence or domestic abuse is usually carried out by someone who the victim/survivor knows. The word “sex” also insinuates that the assault was consensual, when in fact it the victim/survivor did not consent to this. There is no such thing as non-consensual sex - it is rape.
Many newspaper reports on violence against women glorify or sensationalise the perpetrator and use victim blaming language. The continuous victim blaming in media can feed into how readers view victims/survivors in domestic abuse. Rather than putting the onus on male perpetrators. Victim-blaming is harmful and problematic because the victim’s actions should not be blamed, it should be the perpetrator that should be held accountable. For example, the questions victim/survivors are asked about their sexual assault such as ‘what were you wearing at the time of the assault’? which suggests the victim/survivor was looking for trouble and ‘why were you walking there alone at night?’ this implies that the victim/survivor was putting themselves at risk. These narratives are wrong as reports should instead, ask the perpetrator why they sexually assaulted a woman.
Reflections on the project
Throughout this Media Monitoring project, I found myself having to re-read articles a few times to realise stories were using problematic narratives and language. This indicates that narratives of blaming victims/survivors for their own abuse and framing the perpetrator not as ‘normal’ men, is internalised and normalised in all of us. We have to actively work to be more critical when we read these stories.
The media have the power to construct how its readers view our society. They have the responsibility to accurately report on violence against women by telling the full story rather than just one side of it. It is important to be considerate when selecting what details to include or exclude. Working to report responsibly can ensure that stories do not senationalise the story and skew the reality of the violence as though the woman is to blame for the violence. Instead, the perpetrator’s actions should be held accountable.
- 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
- Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram to see how we work towards ending men’s violence against women
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.
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.