Reporting on VAWG: What to Avoid
Violence is always a choice by the perpetrator and the perpetrator is the only person to blame. Here are some things that journalists should avoid if they want to report on violence against women and girls responsibly.
Avoid sympathy for the perpetrator
Framing the article this way prioritises the perpetrator’s emotional turmoil over how his actions affected the victim-survivor.
Avoid suggesting that men will have their careers, or lives, ruined by sexual assault allegations. Men ruin their own careers by perpetrating violence.
Instead, consider the impact on the victim-survivor.
Avoid sensationalising the victim-survivor's identity
Tip: Check out Transgender Europe's guide for journalists.
Avoid stigmatising ethnic groups
There is no evidence that VAWG is more prevalent in ethnic minority communities in the UK. Reporting must avoid implying that any form of VAWG is a part of any community’s culture or religion.
There is evidence that ethnic minority women experience and react to abuse and violence differently from other women. Studies suggest they may be less likely to seek support or to report the abuse to authorities, potentially influenced by a concern that their report will contribute to racist stereotypes.
Avoid glamorising commercial sexual exploitation
Reporting of commercial sexual exploitation, such as webcams, prostitution or pornography, should include information about the associated dangers and harms to the individual.
Focus on some men’s choices to exploit women, not the women’s motivation to be involved in commercial sexual exploitation.
When court reporting
Defence lawyers will use many of the excuses listed below. It is a journalist’s responsibility to give a fair account of what happened in the courtroom, but it is important to avoid using the narrative of the defence as the narrative of your story.
Don’t give it prominence in the story, instead phrase it accurately as ‘defence claims’. Include quotes from victim-survivors and expert agencies which can give context to these claims.
Tip: Check out Rape Crisis Scotland's guide on how to report sexual assault trials responsibly.
Avoid excusing violence against women
Here are some common themes used to justify men’s violence that need to be avoided:
Alcohol and drugs
Use: He stalked the woman on her way home and assaulted her.
Don’t use: She had several drinks, then walked home alone and was assaulted.
Women can experience violence when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol and when they are sober. Never make it sound like a woman’s choice to drink, or take drugs, led to violence.
Alcohol and drugs are not the cause of VAWG – abusive men are.
Crime of passion
Violence is a form of control, an assertion of dominance, not a loss of it. It is controlled, planned, and specific. It is often made to look like a loss of control, but it isn’t.
Cycle of Violence
The evidence available does not suggest that men who experience violence in their own childhoods will be more likely to go on to perpetrate violence.
Blaming current VAWG on experiences of violence in childhood stigmatises adults with adverse childhood experiences, most of whom do not turn to abuse and violence. It also evokes sympathy for the perpetrator rather than framing his actions as unacceptable.
Just a one-off
Be aware that 'one-off' crimes may be part of a pattern of abuse, and that perpetrators may have engaged in several forms of VAWG.
Men don’t ‘just snap’ and are not ‘provoked’ by an argument or event. The overwhelming majority of men who commit violence have a history of abusing women.
Don’t write about violence as standalone incidents. Instead, situate the incident/s using statistics.
You don’t have to turn your article into an academic report – when reporting an incident, you can give it context with a single sentence. E.g., ‘An incident of domestic abuse is reported to Police Scotland every 9 minutes'.
Avoid the narrative that one life event ‘led to’ any violence that occurred.
Don’t use: The loss of job and financial pressure led to murder; husband murders wife after her affair.
Phrasing stories this way makes it sound like violence is an obvious next step in response to these events, when in fact the only cause of the violence was the perpetrator. Lots of people lose their jobs or have an unfaithful partner and most do not turn to abuse and violence. Women and girls get stressed too, yet commit disproportionately fewer violent crimes than men and boys.
Job losses, financial pressures, and affairs are not the cause of VAWG: abusive men are.
Link with football
Although there is evidence suggesting a correlation between Old Firm matches and reports of domestic abuse, this should not be mistaken for causation.
Football is not the cause of VAWG: abusive men are.
One article suggested that a man murdered his ex-partner due to ‘anger management issues’. Abusers do not suffer from anger management problems. They can manage their anger whenever there are witnesses.
Blaming poor mental health stigmatises those with mental health issues, the vast majority of whom do not perpetrate VAWG.
Mental health conditions are not the cause of VAWG: abusive men are.
Sex game gone wrong
Legally, no one can consent to injury or death. Consider that even if a woman has agreed to an act, an abusive partner may have coerced her into it.
'Sex games' do not kill women – abusive and violent men do.