A coalition of women’s groups has called for the issue of sexism in the media to be taken on by a new regulatory body in the runup to publication of Lord Justice Leveson’s report on the press this Thursday.
Four women’s organisations monitored the content of 11 national newspapers over a randomly chosen fortnight in early September, finding more than 1,300 articles and images that raised concerns over how women and violence against them are portrayed in the British press. They say their findings should inform proposals for a new era of newspaper regulation.
The analysis, published on Sunday – International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women – warns that newspaper coverage is glamorising and, on occasion, eroticising violence against women and girls, and helps normalise rape while undermining the criminal justice system by creating jurors who hold prejudices against female victims.
The report said: “We found numerous instances of violence against women coming across as sexual and titillating.
“We call this ‘rape culture’ because this reporting of violence against women and girls not only trivialises the abuse, but it further contributes to an increasingly conducive context for rape and sexual abuse to take place with impunity. Articles which appear to present violation, fear and lack of consent as appealing were not uncommon.”
The findings follow comments by Alison Saunders, chief prosecutor for London, who warned that jurors’ preconceived ideas about rape are hampering attempts to improve justice for survivors of sexual violence. Holly Dustin of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, which compiled the analysis along with campaign groups Eaves, Equality Now and Object, said: “Editors must look at their responsibility for this. It is not in the public interest for this situation to be allowed to continue.”
The coalition will on Sunday send a letter to David Cameron demanding that new press regulation contain clear guidance about women’s equality and sexually explicit material. “If our press culture remains one in which women are either invisible or semi-naked, stereotyped or vilified, our society and our democracy suffers,” the letter says.
Jacqui Hunt of Equality Now said: “The Leveson inquiry was set up to examine the ethics and conduct of the British press and whether these ever run against the public interest. It clearly runs contrary to the public interest to allow news reporting which regularly, directly or indirectly, has a negative, cumulative impact on women’s rights.”
Of particular concern was the frequency of articles that reported violent crimes inaccurately with a tendency to minimise the perpetrator’s actions while blaming the victim.
Examples include a piece in the Sun headlined “Killer Stoke ace gets life” that focused on the loss of a footballer’s potential career rather than his violent murder of his 15-year-old girlfriend.
The coalition said some tabloids contributed to the sexualisation of girls while claiming to condemn it, stating that the sexual abuse of children was occasionally presented in a titillating way. Among the examples was an article by a tabloid newspaper which read: “Cavorting provocatively in a tiny pink swimsuit … little Ocean Orrey struts her stuff in a British beauty pageant – aged just four.”
In many newspapers, said the coalition, women were persistently portrayed as sex objects, sometimes alongside explicit sex industry adverts. One instance highlighted was found in the Daily Sport, a report on a student sex survey with the headline “They bang ’em in Bangor … but there’s no sex in Essex” and accompanied by an image of a near-naked young woman in a bar.
Women in public life were regularly mocked or rendered invisible in favour of a “repeated celebration of young ‘attractive’ women” but who themselves were infantilised with a focus on their looks not their achievements.
Reporting on the cabinet reshuffle – which occurred during the randomly chosen period of analysis between 3 and 18 September – was characterised by editorials described as patronising, insulting and humiliating to women, among them senior politicians Baroness Warsi and Maria Miller, including reference to their choice of dress.
None of the stories documenting violence against women referred to the scale of abuse against women. Yet Home Office data reveals one million women a year experience at least one incident of domestic violence, nearly 20,000 a week, while 3.7m women in England and Wales have been sexually assaulted at some point since the age of 16.
Anna van Heeswijk of Object said that the Sun’s Page 3 tradition encapsulated the issue. She said: “But it is the tip of the iceberg. Page 3 sexism accompanies a daily diet of upskirt photography, double-page spreads of naked women with no news value, and explicit sex industry advertisements in newspapers like the Sport.”
Also from Sunday’s Observer