Sensationalist reporting of 'sex crimes' - it's time we held the tabloids to account
Last week, The Sun was accused by campaigners of reporting a particularly horrific sex-trafficking case in a sensationalist and titillating manner - not least because the article appeared side-by-side with their daily 'Page Three' feature.
Here Mumsnet blogger and member of the No More Page Three campaign Stephanie Davies-Arai argues that the tabloids must stop using women as sexual commodities - and that society must have a means of holding the media to account.
Communicating with Kids
Posted on: Tue 14-Jan-14 13:32:29
(87 comments )
The Sun newspaper's front page splash on January 7th proclaimed: ‘I was sex slave in Fred West's old house’.
This was the titillating headline with which the newspaper chose to introduce the horrific story of a young woman who was trafficked into forced prostitution, enduring gang-rape by many men over an extended period of time. The sensationalist, salacious tone continued over a two page spread on pages 4 and 5, with a second headline: ‘Slave gang forced me to have sex with 5 men at a time’. The words were accompanied by a large, staged photograph of a woman dressed as a sex worker.
Sandwiched in the middle of this report of horrendous sexual abuse - and by necessity reinforcing its sexualised tone - was the Sun's habitual soft porn Page 3 image - a topless woman of around the same age as the victim in the story.
In blurring the boundary between sexual entertainment and violent sexual abuse through its language and images, the Sun's reporting trivialises, to an almost laughable degree, VAWG (Violence Against Women and Girls) - in direct contravention of all published guidelines.
Such salacious reporting can obviously be deeply distressing for survivors of sexual abuse; but it's also acknowledged to have a broader impact on society's views of VAWG. In other words, it affects us all.
The UN Commission on the Elimination and Prevention of all Forms of Violence Against Women and Girls, signed by our government on March 15th 2013, was unequivocal in its findings that the media plays a vital role in forming attitudes towards women, and should refrain from ‘presenting them as inferior beings and exploiting them as sexual objects and commodities.’
In blurring the boundary between sexual entertainment and violent sexual abuse through its language and images, the Sun's reporting trivialises, to an almost laughable degree, Violence Against Women and Girls - in direct contravention of all published guidelines.
A report into how well the UK was implementing that resolution said “the media provides a conducive context in which VAWG flourishes, by reinforcing myths and stereotypes ... violence in some newspapers is eroticised by juxtaposing stories of VAWG with semi-naked or scantily clad women’. In the same report, Alison Saunders, Chief Crown Prosecutor for London, concluded that the treatment of women in the media has an impact on the justice system and jurors’ attitudes.
Last year's Leveson Report found that the tabloid press had ‘a tendency to sexualise and demean women’ and concluded that ‘there is credible evidence that it has a broader impact on the perception and role of women in society.’
Leveson's final recommendation was very clear: that any future media regulator should be able to accept submissions from groups representing women - and that consideration should be given to amending the Press Code, in order to reflect equalities legislation.
Yet the coalition's Draft Royal Charter last year included no reference whatsoever to the fact that media representation of women had even been on the agenda of the Leveson Report - and the subject seems to have been excluded from the current debate about media regulation.
So, after all this, there is still no means of holding a newspaper to account for its reporting of violence against women - either through the courts, or through the Press Complaints Commission. No More Page 3 has written a letter of complaint to David Dinsmore, Editor of the Sun, but this issue is far, far too important to be left to a small, unfunded campaign.
The latest figures show that in the U.K. 470,000 women are sexually assaulted and 85,000 raped each year and one in three schoolgirls have experienced unwanted sexual touching. As we now understand the link between media reporting and societal attitudes which are harmful to women and girls, how long are we going to allow the press to flout both National and International guidelines with impunity? The U.K. Government signed the UN Resolution last March, how long do we have to wait for them to act to ensure that it is implemented?
By Stephanie Davies-Arai
Couldn't agree more.
Come on Mumsnet, you led the way with the Lads Mag campaign and the Lets Girls be Girls campaign now you are way behind on this nonsense. Titty pics and sex crime in a so called (by the editor) family newspaper?!?! Please help to end this '3rd page' dinosaur.
That's disgusting. The Sun should be ashamed of the way it treats women.
I have to say I love the idea of no more page 3! It just feels totally ridiculous that women are still being portrayed in this way, it's so demeaning
I think the more people that get behind this campaign, the better. It's already growing so fast, I really think it will succeed and I'll be happy to tell my daughter that I was a small part of it.
It is more than enough time for this portrayal of violence against women and women in General became an anachronism.
This illustrates so well why page 3 has to go. Can anybody think of a single serious news story , i.e. worthy of the first few pages of a newspaper, next to which it is appropriate to place a titillating image of a young woman standing in her pants for the sexual pleasure of some men?
The fact that they didn't move it or remove it when reporting on a rape and basic imprisonment of a woman the same age as the model gives some indication as to the respect the Sun really had for the seriousness of the crime and the care they needed to take in reporting it. Not to mention the language they used. "Sex" should never be used when you mean "rape". It is little wonder some young men and women don't know the difference.
This is just so grim. The reporting of sex crimes has been sensationalist for a while now and it part of a broader issue of sexual inequality in the newspapers. No More Page Three is a great campaign.
I suspect lots of women on here will be of the 'i don't read it so it doesn't affect me' mind, i really hope if they read this they might change that view, even if just on behalf of all the many many women and girls that have experienced Sun page 3 related abuse. Our society is really screwed up, the fact that it is 'normal' to have a newspaper where it screams 'paedo' on the front page and then has a teenager with her tits out on the next is completely bizarre.
EVERY woman i know has had some sort of sexual harrassment, groping or assault. Its about time we joined the dots and looked at where certain mens attitudes come from. We as individuals can't fix everything, we need governments to sort stuff on the internet i guess but asking for page 3 to be changed is really no big deal at all. All you need do is think 'are there any positives reasons that it SHOULD be there?' And if there are any, are they strong enough to counteract all the negatives?
Every thinking person should be behind the NoMorePage3 campaign, its a no brainer.
Please, Mumsnet. Get behind this campaign. Let 2014 be a year of enlightenment, when women are no longer without a top on in a national newspaper. News, not boobs.
I hate the tabloid obsession with the term 'sex slave'. It's sensational.
I hate the tabloid obsession with sex, it's not news really, is it?
Please Mumsnet, surely now is the time to get behind the No more Page 3 campaign? What, that is truly newsworthy is made more so by having a young girl's breasts next to it?
It would be great if mumsnet could publicly support the no more page 3 campaign. Many public bodies have already done so and over 130k people have signed the no more page 3 petition.
Everything about this is so vile! The Sun does its 'look at us, we really care about the laydeez' schtick, then puts a pic of one with her tits out next to it, so when the reader sees 'sex slave' he is actually encouraged to think of some porn-film scenario where she's 'having sex' (as opposed to being raped) with lots of people and enjoying it really. Disgusting!
Do any women buy The Sun? Or is it only men?
If YOUR man buys/reads it, then persuade him not to.
Wouldn't it be great to see The Sun, and The Star, sales drop to near ZERO.
Couldn't agree more. It's disgusting. These articles read more like soft porn.
I wonder also if the "Sex Slave" was described by the colour of her hair at all within the article? The tabloids love to describe women as "blonde hairdresser" or "the victim was 21-year old brunette, Samantha Brown" etc.
They NEVER describe men in these superficial/ irrelevant terms.
Sorry, slightly off topic, but I fucking despise the way that women are viewed and represented in the media. It DOES need addressing. It DOES affect the way men/ boys think about women, and how women/ girls feel about themselves.
Such an important campaign and we as parents must make sure our voices are heard for our children's sake. The gov must be held to account for ignoring this hugely important issue - and taking VAWG seriously generally.
My hope is that the majority of Sun buyers are older generation and, as the tide changes on people's feelings towards this sexist paper, sales will drastically drop. In the meantime, we should all sign the No More Page 3 campaign and hold our media to account to represent women with dignity and respect in the press.
Agree re the campaign against Page 3.
Should MN commit to the campaign against this issue, they will feel my support most definitely.
You are a force now MN. Let's keep pushing these issues.
I wouldn't even use this paper as kindling.
I can't think of a better example of why soft porn should not be in a newspaper. Yes this story is in the public interest but wrapped around page 3, the context is deeply inappropriate.
I remember being the same age as a girl they showed on page 3 in her school uniform, counting down the days until they could legally show her naked. In 2014 and nearly 20 years later it seems things haven't improved. I don't want my son or daughter growing up to see women treated this way, exposed to it on public transport and in waiting rooms. Come on mumsnet-step up-it's a no brainer.
As a new Mumsnetter, I'm surprised to discover Mumsnet is not throwing wholehearted campaigning support behind nmp3. Page 3 is so obviously an indefensible feature of our 'civilised' society, how can we ignore or even condone it? You only have to read some of the victims' stories on the nmp3 website to see that p3 does influence some men's attitudes to women and girls in an extremely harmful way. There should be new signatories to the petition every minute... it needs to be publicised more and that's where Mumsnet can help.
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