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Domestic abuse charities are condemning a tabloid’s treatment of JK Rowling

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Kayleigh Dray
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JK Rowling

“When newspapers publish domestic abuse stories from the perspective of the abusive partner, they are giving them further power and control.”

Earlier this week, JK Rowling revealed that she is a domestic abuse survivor.

“I’ve been in the public eye now for over 20 years and have never talked publicly about being a domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor,” the Harry Potter author shared in a blog post titled ‘Answers’.

“This isn’t because I’m ashamed those things happened to me, but because they’re traumatic to revisit and remember.”

So, when The Sun ran an interview with Rowling’s first husband on 12 June with the headline “I slapped JK and I’m not sorry”, many were appalled.

Jane Keeper, director of operations at Refuge, a charity that provides specialist support for women and children experiencing domestic violence, is among those who have condemned the tabloid for giving voice to an alleged perpetrator of domestic abuse.

“The front page of The Sun this morning is as irresponsible as it is disappointing,” she writes, in a statement shared with Stylist.

“It would ordinarily be troubling for such an editorial decision to be made - but to run with this during lockdown, when demand to Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline have increased by 66% is shocking. What this has done is give national media coverage to a perpetrator of domestic abuse to attempt to justify his actions.

“It is never acceptable to hit a woman. The first ‘slap’ can lead to a pattern of violence, and domestic abuse is against the law. Domestic abuse can and does result in domestic homicide - 2 women a week in England and Wales are killed by a current or former partner. This is not an issue to be taken lightly.”

Keeper continues: “In England and Wales one in four women will experience domestic abuse at some point in their life. What sort of message does this front page send to survivors? That their abuser will be given national media headlines to justify their actions? That their abuse is legitimate? That it doesn’t matter? That they are ‘fair game’?

“To every survivor of domestic abuse who reads these headlines today: Refuge hears you, we see you, and we believe you. We are here to support you.”

Women’s Aid, similarly, tweeted: “Headlines matter. This morning we have been speaking to The Sun about today’s front page and the negative impact it has had, and we will continue to speak to them to reflect survivors’ voices.

“We listen to and believe survivors of domestic abuse.”

Rowling wrote about the abuse she experienced in a blog post on her website that has been widely criticised for promoting anti-transgender rhetoric. But while many have expressed disappointment and anger with Rowling’s views on trans rights, there is no excuse for tabloids reporting stories about domestic abuse in this way.

Just last year, the UK’s two main press regulators adopted domestic abuse reporting guidelines devised by feminist campaign group Level Up

As Janey Starling, campaign director at Level Up and author of the IPSO-backed guidance on reporting fatal domestic abuse, tells Stylist: “Last year, Level Up worked with domestic abuse experts, victims’ families and journalists to bring in the UK’s first guidelines for journalists on reporting domestic abuse accurately. If we want to end domestic abuse in this country, it’s vital that we respect victims’ dignity, and report their stories and truths with accuracy.

“It’s a matter of public safety that the UK press step up to their responsibility to respect victims and their dignity. Domestic abuse is when someone wants absolute power and control over their partner. When newspapers publish domestic abuse stories from the perspective of the abusive partner, they are giving them further power and control, and disrespecting a victim’s dignity and privacy. This is tantamount to colluding with the abuser, which is an incredibly damaging action to take.”

Starling adds: “Last year, both regulators IPSO and IMPRESS backed the Level Up guidance. Many newsrooms have transformed their reporting practices. But front pages like today prove that guidance is not enough.

“If IPSO and the press are committed to using their power and influence to end domestic abuse in the UK, which they should be, it’s time to bring in stronger regulation and penalties for publications who go against reporting rules. 

“This is a matter of life and death for women all across the UK, and it’s time for the press to stand on the side of the victim, not the abuser.”

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As the hashtag #dontbuythesun continues to trend on Twitter, a spokeswoman for the tabloid has published a statement via their official social media channels.

“It was certainly not our intention to ‘enable’ or ‘glorify’ domestic abuse, our intention was to show a perpetrator’s total lack of remorse,” it reads.

“Our sympathies are always with the victims.”

You can read the statement in full below:

As previously reported by Stylist, one in four women will experience domestic abuse in their life and one in six men. And, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, two women are killed by their current or ex-partner every week.

Warning signs of abuse can include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Your partner constantly criticises, humiliates or belittles you
  • Your partner checks up on you or follows you
  • Your partner tries to keep you from seeing your friends or family
  • Your partner has prevented you or made it hard for you to continue studying or going to work
  • Your partner unjustly accuses you of flirting or having affairs with others
  • Your partner has forced you to do something that you really did not want to do
  • Your partner has deliberately destroyed any of your possessions
  • You have changed your behaviour because you are afraid of what your partner might do or say to you
  • Your partner controls your finances
  • Your partner talks down to you
  • Your partner has strong opinions on what you should wear and your appearance
  • Your partner has tried to prevent you from leaving your house
  • Your partner has forced you or harassed you into performing a sexual act
  • Your partner has threatened to reveal or publish private information
  • Your partner threatens to hurt him or herself if you leave them
  • Your partner withholds medication from you
  • Your partner makes you feel guilty all the time
  • Your partner blames you for their bad moods and outbursts
  • Your partner is physically violent with you
  • You are afraid of your partner

If you are worried that you might be the victim of abuse, it’s quite likely that you are. If these signs of an abusive relationship sound all too familiar to you, then get out of that situation as soon as possible.

Visit womensaid.org.uk or call 0808 2000 247 for more information about coercive control, domestic abuse, and the help available for those affected.

The National Centre for Domestic Violence also offers a free, fast emergency injunction service to survivors of domestic violence regardless of their financial circumstances, race, gender, or sexual orientation. Text NCDV to 60777, call 0800 9702070, or visit ncdv.org.uk.

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Images: Getty

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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