Four months after it apparently dropped topless models from Page 3, The Sun is hitting the headlines again over its reporting of women, this time over a hard-hitting campaign calling on refuges for domestic violence victims to be reopened after government cuts.
In its new Give Me Shelter campaign, Britain's best-selling newspaper calls on the government to end the "scandal" of refuges being closed under the previous government.
The Sun says that since 2010 more than 30 refuges for domestic violence victims have been shut by cost-cutting, leading to women in need being turned away.
The Sun is asking readers to sign a petition calling for these centres to be replaced and all refuges to receive guaranteed funding. The number of signatures so far has not been made public.
The campaign profiles 48 women who died at the hands of partners or ex-partners last year, with graphic stories.
The response was largely positive, with many praising the paper for backing an important issue and saying the campaign could "save lives":
I signed The Sun's petition to protect victims of domestic violence http://t.co/JVIEADmhiM— Emma McDonald (@WeeEmz36) May 18, 2015
Woman should feel safe and be safe in their homes. I detest domestic violence and strongly support refuges for woman #GiveMeShelter— Andrew Parker (@andrewparker200) May 18, 2015
But some detected a whiff of hypocrisy, given that The Sun is viewed by some to have a negative attitude to women - exemplified by placing topless models on Page 3, a feature which appears to have been dropped, although the page continues with occasional women in lingerie.
The Sun is suddenly concerned with domestic violence victims yet still fills its pages with objectifying / dehumanising images of women.— Josephine Liptrott (@JoLiptrott) May 18, 2015
Women's Aid, the umbrella body for all domestic violence services, backs The Sun's campaign. It told The Huffington Post UK that it was against some of the tabloid's approach to women but welcomed the chance to work with the newspaper.
A spokeswoman said: "We are explicitly 'No More Page 3' at Women's Aid and were massive supporters of that campaign. The Sun is well aware of our viewpoint on that, and while we might not always agree with the tone they use around women, we see this as a change to get this issue onto a massive platform."
She added that the Give Me Shelter campaign was bringing "new life" to the 'SOS Save Refuges, Save Lives' campaign launched by Women's Aid last year.
And most Twitter users considered the need for more refuges to be a cause worth putting any opposition to The Sun aside to support:
Whatever you think of The Sun - this petition is good and Domestic Violence needs to be stopped. Please sign. https://t.co/sAhU6wLz6P— polskey (@polskey) May 18, 2015
Even Roy Greenslade, the media commentator who has not held back from criticism of The Sun in the past, praised the project saying "give credit where it is due". He wrote in The Guardian:
"The Sun campaign has aroused enormous interest across social media today, most of it supportive with, inevitably, some negative comments too.
But that’s unfair. The editor, David Dinsmore, deserves praise for launching such a worthwhile campaign. Give credit where it is due. This is an occasion where Britain’s best-selling newspaper is using its muscle in a good cause."
But Jack Monroe, the food blogger and outspoken Tweeter, hit out at The Sun's campaign for what she felt was the wrong approach.
Monroe, who quit Twitter in April over homophobic abuse but has now returned, said The Sun should be asking readers "not to abuse their girlfriends" rather than calling for more refuges to be built.
She soon found herself in a war of words with The Sun's Managing Editor Stig Abell:
Dear @StigAbell Perhaps if your newspaper hadn't championed the party cutting domestic abuse support, your campaign might seem less hollow.— Jack Monroe (@MsJackMonroe) May 18, 2015
.@MsJackMonroe Objecting to a positive, constructive campaign based on your own politics is hollow.— Stig Abell (@StigAbell) May 18, 2015
Monroe was also shot down by other tweeters:
@VictoriaMonro wait the sun launched a campaign to build domestic violence shelters and she is complaining about this?— Alasdair (@alasdairtweets) May 18, 2015
The Sun listens to Jack Monroe's advice, commands its readers not to beat their girlfriends.
Domestic violence ends forever.— Krieger's beard (@Pseudo_Spam) May 18, 2015
She justified herself to one tweeter by saying that stopping domestic violence in the first place would a better focus for a campaign than helping victims:
The Sun has a history of campaigning against domestic violence and abuse. Sharon Hendry, the Sun journalist behind the Give Me Shelter campaign, launched a similar initiative for the paper in 2003, and The Sun also backed a campaign from domestic violence shelter charity Refuge and TV personality Sheryl Gascoigne in 2010.
The Give Me Shelter campaign draws on shocking stats about the prevalence of domestic violence and the desperation of those who suffer it, including:
- Two women are killed by partners each week in England and Wales
- It is estimated more than a million women suffered domestic violence last year
- Since 2010, local council cost cutting and changes the housing benefit rules means around one in six of specialist domestic violence refuges have had to close
- On just one day last year, 112 women with 84 children were turned away from refuges that could not house them
- Although violent crime has fallen, rates of domestic violence have remained stable since 2009
Polly Neate, the chief executive of Women's Aid, said: “In most situations, a woman will be killed as she tries to leave an abusive partner, which is the reason many are scared to leave. This is why it is essential we have specialist services, so women have somewhere safe to go."
For help with domestic violence issues, contact the 24 hr National domestic violence helpline on 0808 2000 247