Why Language Matters: How are the violence and perpetrators framed?

Don't write "sex attack" When you mean "rape"

Our Project Support Intern, Saffron Roberts, 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.

The language used when writing about violence against women is very important. It shapes how the reader thinks about the particular violence they are reading about, but also violence against women in general.


Rape is not a “Sex attack”

In two separate articles, The Sun used the phrases “sex attack” and “sex slaves”. Another article in The Sun talked about a woman being “blackmailed into steamy sex romps”. Rape is not a sex attack, rape is not even about sex, it is about power. In using these phrases, instead of ‘rape’ or ‘abuse’, it suggests that these acts were consensual and gives bias towards the perpetrator. It also sensationalises the events, making them into gossip, instead of crimes that had a huge impact on the survivors.


Perpetrator not “Jilted lover”

One article in the Daily Mail described a “jilted lover” who was convicted for “disclosing private sexual photographs” of his ex-girlfriend. Many people are broken up with and do not violently violate the privacy of their ex-partners by sharing intimate images. By using the term “jilted lover” the article comes to his defence and justifies his actions. He is not a “jilted lover”, he is a perpetrator of violence against women and a convicted criminal.


Man not “Beast”

The Sun ran an article with the title ‘BEAST BUST-UP’, about convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein (who they called a, “paedo”). Words like ‘beast’ are an issue as they make it seem like only the worst kind of monsters commit crimes like this. When we know that from the outside lots of perpetrators seem very normal, friendly, and charismatic. “Beast” also makes us think of animalistic urges and impulses, when violence against women is often carefully thought out, and is always an active decision on behalf of the perpetrator.


Agony Aunt knows what she is talking about!

I found a really interesting framing of men’s VAW in the agony aunt section of The Sun. Two men wrote to a woman agony aunt for advice about women in their lives. One claimed, “My girlfriend is terrified of her violent ex and it’s ruining our relationship”, whilst the other stated, “I want my estranged wife back but I’ve been following her to try catch her with another man”. It was very interesting to read from the point of view of the men writing in, but also in the way the agony aunt responded to their problematic points of view. In her responses, the agony aunt included information on where the “girlfriend” could find help, she spoke about the stress both of them would be feeling, and the real danger of the woman. To the man who was stalking his ex-partner, she provided advice on him accepting his own behaviour as abusive and his own role in the breakdown of the marriage. She included helpline information for him with an organisation called Respect, that help men change their behaviour.

Although both pieces were extremely short, they ticked multiple boxes in terms of reporting VAW. The language used by the agony aunt in her response was particularly striking in its explicit acknowledgement of non-physical violence: 'Did she leave you because you are controlling, and she was unhappy?'. By including and responding to these stories, the agony aunt shows that this behaviour is happening, the men involved think it is normal, and directly addresses it as unacceptable.



  • Name the crime – don’t use euphemisms or inaccurate descriptions of what has happened. There is no such thing as sex without consent – that is rape.
  • Don’t describe perpetrators as beasts or jilted lovers. They are adult men with full control of their actions and choices to be violent.

This is the fourth blog in our media monitoring series. Click here to read part one, part two, and part three, or media monitoring from previous years.


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. (response within 2 days by email)

Rape Crisis Scotland Helpline

08088 01 03 02 - between 6pm and midnight every night or by email

Full details of access to support for people who are deaf or hard of hearing can be found at

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.


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

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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