Support for victims of trafficking should surely be void of titillation!

It is a good thing that The Sun wants to “Stop Slavery in the UK”, but we need to make sure rape is reported respectfully!

Human trafficking and sexual exploitation is a huge national and global issue. You would think therefore that anybody who wants to highlight this and support campaigns that address it would be a benefit to the cause.  Not necessarily so.

Now I understand that The Sun is of the red top tradition of over-sensationalised front page headlines, but there are some that really make you take note. One of this week’s front pages read, “I was a sex slave in Fred West’s old house”. What proceeded on pages 4-5 under the headline “Sex gang forced me to have sex with 5 men at a time” were details of the horrific ordeal suffered by a 24-year-old woman called Nikola. At age 18 Nikola was conned and convinced to travel to the UK from the Czech Republic by a gang intent to exploit her. Following the promise of a better life, Nikola found herself trafficked and trapped and in a horrific situation. Four members of the gang were later jailed, and The Sun was revealing ‘her’ story.

Seeing as though this story is about human trafficking and sexual exploitation, you would seriously hope that any reports would steer clear of anything so crass as titillation and would never dream of tagging a movie promotion onto it, wouldn’t you?

Well before you delve into the story, or even the stories placement within the paper, you need only to look at the headlines. Both “I was a sex slave at Fred West’s old house” on the front page and “Slave gang forced me to have sex with 5 men at a time” headlining the article, are written in the personal pronoun, indicating that the victim herself said those words. The report that follows never supports this, and indeed, even if that were the case, responsibility should be taken to respectfully report such a delicate issue. Which brings us on to the second point: Words! Yes, more words!

Now we are told repeatedly (so it must be true) that sex sells. It certainly seems to be the case with The Sun as without it it’s content is dubious – though many devout readers have informed me that the sports section is very good!!! Pah! So, if sex sells does that mean it is ok for anyone to use it carte blanche to sell newspapers, even when it isn’t sex, even when it’s actually rape? See Nikola was not a “sex slave” she was a trafficking & rape victim. She was not “forced to have sex with 5 men at a time”, she was raped by 5 men at a time! The use of the word sex does not reflect her ordeal. This irresponsible and inaccurate use of words only serves to support the concept of “blurred lines” between consensual sex and rape, which is actuality do not exist! In this instance, things really are cut and dry! It is either consensual, or it is rape!

Repeatedly using the word “sex”, presumably to grab attention, is extremely dangerous and surely undermines The Sun’s attempts to promote the issue for a positive outcome. As does the story’s placement within the newspaper. Sandwiched between the headline on the front page, and the story on pages 4-5 was “Sabine, 21, from London” and an advertisement for the 2014 Page 3 calendar! These images are in stark contrast to the small image of Nikola – wearing jeans, a full-length coat and a hood ­ that accompanied the report. They were not a million miles away, however, from the image that took up most of the page; of a woman wearing fishnet stockings, a short skirt and high-heels; seemingly posed by a model.

Imagine if you can, Rape Crisis launch a campaign to address the issue of trafficking and as you read about it on their website, you casually scroll past an image of a topless woman, placed there because “it’s a British Institution”. Can you conceive that whilst reading about Unicef’s work to support victims of trafficking, you have to click past “Dawn from Swansea” whose main interests are “sport and politics”. No! The idea is ludicrous, and to all but those wearing “The Sun has done this for years so it’s ok” goggles, so too is the sun’s placement of this story around Page 3.

Despite supposedly raising awareness of such a serious issue, the way The Sun has chosen to report it had understandably riled a number of women’s groups. An End Violence Against Women (EVAW) spokeswoman said: “This kind of sensationalised reporting causes real harm by minimising and eroticising sexual violence against women. The fact is that stories of abuse which are placed next to soft porn on the next page are designed to titillate. It is deeply discriminatory and underlines the need for Page 3 to go and for more responsible reporting of abuse.”

Mirroring this, Jo Costello, spokeswoman for Ending Victimisation and Blame (EVN) said “Use of the term ‘sex slave’ is dehumanising to women and incredibly damaging to women who have experienced sexual violence.” Furthermore, “Conflating rape with sex, as in this case, shows a clear misunderstanding of sexual violence and shows the depths The Sun newspaper will go to in order to sensationalise sexual violence.”

As a campaigner for No More Page 3, I am more than aware of the multitude of issues that surround Page 3. I was pleased that the No More Page 3 blog and twitter feed also highlighted the problems surrounding such irresponsible reporting and further emphasis that “Rape is rape, it is not sex!”

In response to all the issues raised here, a spokesperson from The Sun said: “We respect the rights of free expression for campaigners to make whatever points they choose. However, we must not lose sight of the original story here. It was a well-researched report by a (female) campaigning journalist, seeking to expose the horror of sexual slavery in modern Britain… and highlighting the terrible plight of some women in order that action could be taken. This is an example of journalism clearly in the public interest. The fact that No More Page 3 – due to the zealotry of its dislike for The Sun – should offer criticism rather than support says more about its moral and intellectual values than it does about ours.”

Neither the inappropriate language, the placement, nor in fact any of the issues raised by the different women’s groups were addressed by The Sun. Though it provided them with a useful platform from which to attack No More Page 3.

Both this story about Nikola, and a feature later in the week about Theresa May’s backing of the campaign, casually mention that all this is happening the same week that “The movie 12 Years A Slave opens in the cinemas”. You have to work hard to convince yourself that this is all to “Stop slavery in the UK” and nothing to do with some form of movie sponsorship! And you have to work hard to convince yourself that The Sun’s response is all about continuing to raise awareness for the cause, and not about continuing to show bare breasts in a national newspaper and to titillate it’s readers at any cost, without opposition.

Responding to The Sun’s feedback No More Page 3 posted on their blog “We acknowledge The Sun’s place in British society, but would simply like to see you represent women, and report stories of violence against them, with respect.” Also that “We applaud you for your current campaign highlighting the issues of slavery and violence against women.” While it is good that The Sun are highlighting the issue, I, for one, would rather they chose to report rape respectfully.

Today I listened to The Final Mapping of New Constellations, released by Lil Crackd Rabbit


Another image from Noise Above Noise at The Penthouse. Debbie Sharp (pictured here) is a conceptual artist based in Manchester. Her performances are always very atmospheric and her sound work really beautiful, in quite an unsettling way. I enjoyed trying to capture the energy of the performance here in the image.





About annelouisekershaw365

I’m Anne Louise Kershaw a freelance writer. I’m Music Editor of Blankpages and Manchester's Finest. I write, design & edit for Carel Press an educational publishers. I usually have my fingers dipped in several creative pies. I’m a feminist, occasional poet, enthusiastic taker of pictures and constant tea drinker and artist. I love music, dancing, running, mountain biking, going off in my campervan, dressing up in a totally over the top fashion and making myself dizzy. Often, all at the same time! If you know of anything interesting going on in the world of music, fashion, gender, equality or film get in touch. I can be emailed at [email protected] and am @Anne_L_Kershaw on twitter.
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