The Government estimates that last year 85,000 women were raped or sexually assaulted in the UK. A horrific statistic. During my adult life, women have made great progress in many respects. We have made progress at work, in education and public services, and in pensions and child care, but we seem to have gone backwards in the public portrayal of women and the impact that is having on our self-esteem and the way men treat us.
Clearly rape and sexual violence take place in a cultural context. I believe these crimes are, in part, influenced by the way in which women are represented in the media. In a recent survey I carried out 77% of female respondents felt that there should be more controls on media portrayals of women's bodies.
Recently I wrote in the Huffington Post UK about a series of focus groups I held with 15 year old girls in London and County Durham about their thoughts on the representation of women in the media. The girls, in particular, drew a connection between the images portrayed in the media and the way they are harassed on the streets by complete strangers. The thing that worried them most was music videos that glamourise violence. They were particularly scathing of Eminem and Rihanna's video, "Love the way you lie", which is about a woman who is apparently in love with a violent man.
I have suggested in parliament that the government consult urgently on introducing age-rating for music videos, which was one of the Bailey review's proposals. Also that Ofcom look again at its rules for radio stations to keep sexually explicit and inappropriate lyrics to particular times of the day. And that we reduce the amount of on-street advertising containing sexualised imagery in locations where children are likely to see it. The media obsession with physical perfection was thought by some to "set girls up to fail" and the young people also wanted all airbrushed photos labelled
I also support ATVOD --the Authority for Television on Demand-- in their campaign to address R18 pornographic material which is available on on-demand online sites that are not out of the reach of children on the internet.
David Cameron talked a good game about letting children be children and yet this Government have failed to deliver any significant policy changes in this area. This International Women's Day he should think again about the media impact on women and children in our society and urge his government to act and bring about some of these important changes.
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