“Women who dress provocatively more likely to be raped“, “Party girls thumped for having lesbo sex”, “hooked on hookers“, “Six footballers jailed over gang rape of 12-year-old girls in midnight park orgy”. These are all recent headlines – some in the tabloid press, others in broadsheets all freely available in newsagents and all, according to a major coalition of key women’s groups, adding to an often degrading and dangerous portrayal of women in the British media.
Four groups – End Violence Against Women, Equality Now, Object and rape charity Eaves – are calling on the Leveson inquiry to move away from addressing the concerns of celebrities and other victims of alleged phone hacking by News International and look at the daily treatment of women, which they say contributes to a society where rape can only be committed by evil strangers down darkened alleyways and where a woman is valued only because of her body.
In four detailed submissions the groups lay out the worst culprits over dozens of damning pages. The organisations say they took a “small sample” of sexist – and often misleading – articles from a vast number of offensive reports.
In a 27-page document the End Violence Against Women (Evaw) coalition, a campaigning group which calls for action to end violence against women and girls, pulled out 10 examples which they say provides a “snapshot” of “poor reporting of violence against women stories which were either intrusive, inaccurate, which misrepresented or were misogynistic, victim-blaming or condoning violence against women and girls”.
The portrayal of prostitutes in the media was also damaging, according to the Evaw submission. “It feeds into myths about prostitution, which at worse lead to attitudes that tolerate violence against women in prostitution or regard it as inevitable,” it said.
It also criticised the Telegraph, and others, for a story with the headline: “Women who dress provocatively more likely to be raped”, which carried the line “women who drink alcohol, wear short skirts and are outgoing are more likely to be raped, claim scientists at the University of Leicester”.
The MSC student, from whose unfinished and unpublished dissertation project the story had emerged, later said each of the first four statements made by the Telegraph was “an unambiguous, incorrect, misrepresentation of her findings”.
But it is tabloid newspapers that are most fiercely criticised. The Sun and the Sunday Sport are condemned for “counting down” to the 16th birthdays of celebrities including actor Emma Watson and singer Charlotte Church. “The implication is shocking – that millions of readers should share a joke about the sexual desirability of underage girls,” according to the submission. “Both young women have since reported that they found this editorial upsetting,” it said.