the media is part of the problem


Practically six years after the #MeToo motion arrived in Australia, and greater than a decade after the launch of the primary nationwide plan to cut back violence in opposition to ladies, those that witnessed the scenes in Parliament final week — and browse the media protection that spurred it — may very well be forgiven for questioning what, if something, will ever actually change. 

I believe these despairing, like me, additionally mirrored on the current launch of the second nationwide neighborhood attitudes survey, which demonstrated that myths about sexual assault and home violence are nonetheless rife — and the backlash in opposition to justice for ladies is in full swing.

The survey discovered {that a} important variety of Australians maintain views that distrust ladies, objectify them, disregard consent, minimise violence and victim-blame. For instance, one in 5 consider that ladies who say they have been raped had “led the person on after which had regrets”. And when it was launched in March, the researchers warned extra wanted to be achieved to handle myths and the so-called “backlash” they engendered. 

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But right here we’re, simply 4 months later, and people dangerous myths have been on full show. 

I may write volumes about what that survey tells us about our efforts to stop violence in opposition to ladies, however for now I’ll deal with the media and the function it has performed in enabling violence in opposition to ladies and fuelling that backlash.

What we noticed final week was shameful. There was The Australian’s resolution to attract upon (I’d argue selectively) Brittany Higgins’ leaked textual content messages. Higgins alleged in 2021 that she was raped in Parliament Home. The alleged perpetrator, Bruce Lehrmann — who has all the time maintained his innocence — was not convicted. The primary trial collapsed attributable to juror misconduct and the second was deserted attributable to issues for Higgins’ psychological well being. These texts have been by no means tendered as proof — and may by no means have seen the sunshine of day. 

There have been reviews over the weekend in The Australian, in one in every of which a victim-survivor claimed to symbolize all victim-survivors’ experiences of the legal justice system. The creator claimed, categorically, that the legal justice system works for ladies and a sufferer’s willingness to cooperate with police is the “foremost predictor of conviction”. That’s merely not true. A second article questioned victim-survivors’ credibility in sexual assault trials by drawing on stereotypes about psychological sickness.

And as readers of Crikey can be nicely conscious, The Australian was not the one offender. To counsel in any other case — and that solely these working at Information Corp must replicate — would serve to minimise the size of the issue. 

In a sub-genre I wish to name “Males Clarify Issues to Me” (thanks, Rebecca Solnit), there was no scarcity of males pontificating about sexual violence. We had Ray Hadley on 2GB saying the quiet half out loud, the very definition of the trope of “the proper sufferer”, when he recommended that Senator Lidia Thorpe’s  allegation that Senator David Van had sexually harassed and assaulted her (allegations he denies) must be taken severely as a result of they have been backed by former Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker. She was, mentioned Hadley, “a top quality girl”. 

And there was Crikey’s very personal Man Rundle, who made a very distinctive contribution to the “what was she sporting” style when he puzzled what Higgins had spent her settlement cash on, together with designer footwear. No, Rundle, you aren’t “entitled” to know the small print of Higgins’ confidential settlement simply because you’re a taxpayer; nor are you entitled to muse about what she spent the cash on.  “Entitled”, certainly. 

My frustration with media representations of violence in opposition to ladies, and the extent to which the media can both be a part of the answer by tackling the attitudes and beliefs that give rise to violence or a part of the issue by reinforcing these beliefs through dangerous myths and stereotypes, will not be theoretical. I’ve pores and skin on this sport. 

For my sins, after I first arrived in Australia a decade in the past I took a job with Our Watch, the nationwide basis to stop violence in opposition to ladies, because the inaugural nationwide media engagement supervisor. 

On the time, within the days after the launch of the primary nationwide plan, and within the yr the homicide of Rosie Batty’s son Luke shocked the nation out of a way of complacency, media representations of violence have been very a lot on the nationwide agenda. Based on the primary nationwide plan, the media had been recognized in state and nationwide coverage paperwork as “a precedence space for motion on stopping violence in opposition to ladies”.

In consequence, Our Watch was funded to do a number of issues, together with set up the nationwide Our Watch awards for exemplary reporting of violence in opposition to ladies, fee world-leading analysis into media representations of violence in opposition to ladies, and develop reporting pointers.

A decade later, traces of that work are laborious to seek out — and momentum appears to have been misplaced. It was deeply ironic that final week the considerably scaled-back Our Watch award for reporting on violence in opposition to ladies (it was once a standalone occasion, now it’s a single award on the Walkley Awards’ midyear celebration) was handed out at the identical time the Australian media was plumbing new depths in its reporting of the problems. 

It has been disappointing that Our Watch has had nothing to say about current occasions. In the meantime, the Canberra Rape Disaster Centre issued a strong open letter to the media excoriating them for being a part of the issue, and Full Cease Australia “urged warning” after current media reviews “misrepresented the fact of victim-survivors of sexual violence”.

The place is the management from Australia’s main prevention physique as soon as tasked with the job of tackling media representations of violence in opposition to ladies as a part of its broader “prevention” work?

“When the media program began [at Our Watch] I had quite a lot of hope,” journalist and advocate Jane Gilmore says. Gilmore was on the vanguard of that motion to sort out media representations of violence in opposition to ladies a decade in the past. She established the “Mounted It” marketing campaign in 2014 and — 5 years later — revealed a ebook of the identical title about all the pieces she had learnt about males’s violence, ladies’s (mis)illustration and the media. 

“However I haven’t given up hope,” she says. “And a complete lot of individuals haven’t given up but. That’s what makes me get away from bed within the morning and hold going.” 

Our Watch has been contacted for a response.

Should you or somebody you realize is affected by sexual assault or violence, name 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or go to In an emergency, name 000.

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