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Women's Groups Urge End To Sexism In Media, Including 'Titillating' Sex Abuse Reporting

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British newspapers are regularly "patronising and insulting" when they report on women in public life and victims of sex abuse - with focus on the dress of female politicians and "titillating" details of sex crimes - a new report has found.

The four womens' groups who contributed to the analysis have called for sexism in the media to be taken on by a new regulatory press body.

A new joint report by four leading women’s organisations published on Sunday has called sexism in British national newspapers "endemic" and a culture which "leads to real harm to, and discrimination against, women in Britain."

page 3

A woman campaigns against Page 3 and sexism in the Sun

The report, entitled ‘Just the Women’, by Eaves, Equality Now, the End Violence Against Women Coalition and Object, is an evaluation of eleven British national newspapers’ content over a two week period in September this year.

The name of the report, which looked at 1,300 news reports and images, stems from an email reportedly sent from Newsnight editor Peter Rippon concerning the lack of evidence from other authorities of presenteer Jimmy Savile’s abuse of women and children during his decades at the BBC.

The topic has come under the spotlight in recent months, not just because of the pursuit of female celebrities highlighted in the Leveson enquiries, but also because of the No More Page 3 and Everyday Sexism campaigns.

Lucy-Anne Holmes, who set up the Page 3 campaign in August, called on advertisers to stop paying for adverts next to the Sun's daily topless model.

Everyday Sexism, founded by Laura Bates, encourages women to report instances of harassment in everyday life, at work and in the media.

Anna Van Heeswijk of Object said of the new report: “We fear too many of our decision makers are actually unfamiliar with the daily content of the red top tabloids.

"Page 3 in The Sun is emblematic of the persistent portrayal of women as sex objects in our press, 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, and to a lesser extent The Star and The Sun.

"These images are so degrading that they were censored by the Leveson Inquiry, and removed from Facebook - despite the fact that they are contained within our unrestricted national newspapers.

"'If you don’t like it don’t buy it’ simply will not do when these products are on sale without restriction and thousands of copies are left lying around in public spaces every day.”

rape reporting

A woman reads a newspaper featuring Nafissatou Diallo, the maid who accused former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn of raping her, outside the New York courthouse durinmg a demonstration in support of Diallo


The report expressed particular concern about the reporting of sexual violence against women, crimes it said were reported "inaccurately and without context, with a tendency to minimise the perpetrator’s actions and to blame the victim" and in addition "sexual abuse of children is sometimes presented in a way that minimises the abuse and is even on occasion titillating."

Examples given in the two-week period monitored by the campaigners, included “Killer Stoke Ace gets life”, in The Sun newspaper, which "focuses on the loss of a footballer’s potential career rather than his extremely violent murder of his 15 year old girlfriend."

Another example given was a Mirror story on cage fighter Alex Reid, which the report said was written "humorously" about the celebrity trying to break into his girlfriend's home.

Holly Dustin of the End Violence Against Women Coalition said: “Earlier this year the Head of the CPS in London spoke out about the way the media’s portrayal of rape undermines our justice system.

"Jurors come to trial with prejudices against female victims and media reporting may even deter victims coming forward in the first place.

"Numerous victims in the ongoing Jimmy Savile and other child abuse scandals have said, ‘I didn’t think anyone would believe me.’

"Editors must look at their responsibility for this. It is not in the public interest for this situation to be allowed to continue.”

The report also condemned how "women are persistently portrayed as sex objects, alongside the mainstreaming and ‘normalising’ of the sex industry."

sienna miller

Sienna Miller arrives at the Leveson enquiry, at the High Court, where she spoke of how female celebrities were pursued and portrayed


One example given was a report on the sex habits of female students in the Sport newspaper, which the report called "an example of the frequent focus in some newspapers on the sexual conduct of female students; the report uses the language of pornography (“horny young learners”) and is accompanied by an image of near naked young woman in a bar.

"This story was run alongside a separate story about a sexual violence conviction which was minimising of the offence (‘Peeping Tom shower perv avoids prison’) and alongside explicit sex industry adverts."

The report's authors also drew attention to he growing use of "upskirt" shots of female celebrities, including the Sport's story "Pop babe is latest upskirt conquest of papararsey Pete”.

The pictures are presented as "exciting exactly because the subject is apparently not consenting to the photo being taken."

Heather Harvey of Eaves said: “These are categorically not matters of so-called ‘taste and decency’. The persistent portrayal of women as to blame for the abuse they suffer, as sex objects and as an insignificant part of public life, is very damaging. We need a full scale debate about how to turn this around.”

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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.

"The Inquiry and the new regime which follows will not be complete unless this critical issue of the portrayal of women is addressed.

“The soft measures we are calling for are reasonable and overdue – a better complaints mechanism, an adjudicating body which includes equality expertise, some consistency with the broadcast watershed for publications carrying sexually explicit material.”

In the longer term, the four women’s organisations are also calling for journalists to receive training on issues including sexism and myths and stereotypes about sexual and physical violence; and for the Culture and Media Select Committee, headed by John Whittingdale MP, to hold an inquiry into media sexism.

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