Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the End Violence Against Women Coalition

Summary

Online safety is a significant issue for women and girls who are targeted for specific kinds of abuse, harassment and coercion online, just as they are in the offline world. Indeed, there are few spaces online where women are not subject to abuse or discrimination, including social media sites, online pornography and music videos. CEOP’s recent report shows that there has been a 70% increase in the proliferation of child abuse images of girls under 10 years old.1

The Home Office leads a cross-government Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy and work on online safety should be explicitly linked to this. Likewise, violence against women and girls should be integrated into policies on media and technology with inter-departmental working on these issues.

There is a clear need for enforcement agencies to be more proactive about tackling online abuse and apply policies and procedures consistently. Likewise, there should be consistent regulation of images across the media, for example consistent treatment of sexualised content in music videos online with videos broadcast on television.

We broadly welcome the approach the Government is taking to tackle pornography, in particular the Prime Minister’s announcement that “rape” will be included in the definition of extreme pornography in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. This needs to be backed up with public awareness campaigns tackling harmful attitudes and behaviours that are targeted at different sections of the population. Critically, all children and young people have the right to be given the tools to identify abusive behaviour and perpetrator tactics, negotiate online spaces and learn about sexual consent and respectful relationships in school. This should be a legal obligation for all schools to teach in an age appropriate way in both primary and secondary schools. It is also vital that there are specialist sexual violence and other support services for victims/survivors of online abuse, whether or not they report to the police. Such provision is currently extremely patchy, especially for children and young people who are particularly vulnerable to online abuse.

We note that Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women states that: “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country…” At its Concluding Observations on the UK’s compliance with CEDAW, the CEDAW Committee noted that a lack of positive media portrayals of women “contribute to women’s disadvantaged position in a number of areas, including in the labour market and in access to decision-making positions, and affect women’s choices in their studies and professions.”.

We are pleased to have the opportunity to respond to this consultation. Our members have considerable expertise on the safety of women and girls and we will focus our response on this group. Our experts are available to give oral evidence to the Inquiry.

1. About the End Violence Against Women Coalition

End Violence Against Women (EVAW) is a UK-wide coalition2 of women’s organisations, frontline service providers, survivors, human rights organisations, academics and activists who came together in 2005 to campaign for strategic approaches to all forms of violence against women and girls in the UK. We work to the UN definition of violence against women and girls (VAWG) as “violence directed at a woman because she is a woman or acts of violence which are suffered disproportionately by women”.3

Our members campaigned successfully for the Westminster, London and Wales Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategies and we run a network of experts on preventing VAWG. Along with several of our members, we gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry in 2012 about the prejudicial treatment of women in the print media, and we also campaign around VAWG and social media.

2. Abuse of Women and Girls Online

Professor Hagemann-White’s model of perpetration of violence for the European Commission4 identifies the culture of violence in the media and the sexualisation of women and girls as major factors operating at a structural level that contribute to the perpetration of VAWG.

Whilst developments in digital technology over the last decade have made information and support more accessible, they have also massively increased the ways in which women and girls can be abused, threatened and harassed online. There are additional issues for particular groups, such as women and girls with learning disabilities who may be subject to particular abuse and not given the skills to handle it or be able to negotiate issues around safety. Some groups experience stereotyping that intersects race and gender, for example black women and men being stereotyped as “hypersexual” or Asian women as “submissive”.

The connections with abuse in the “offline” world are also hugely important. Sexually explicit material available in online settings can be used in a range of ways to manipulate and coerce young people into sexually abusive or exploitative activity; for instance, as incitement to perform sexual acts via webcams/Skype which can be then be used to blackmail young people into further abuse.5

Pornography

There is now much evidence to show that children increasingly have access to pornography online, whether through smartphones, laptops or other devices, and that this is linked to negative attitudes towards women and relationships, risky and earlier sexual activity. Furthermore, that there is a clear correlation between accessing pornography and violent attitudes. Boys are more likely to deliberately seek out pornography than girls who feel very uncomfortable about their exposure to it (Children’s Commissioner, 2013).6

Portman Clinic psychotherapist John Woods has written7 about the growing number of young patients referred to the clinic by social services, youth offender services and police for their use of pornography. This includes boys as young as 12 who have convictions for looking at child pornography, as well as children who have committed rape or sexual assaults. This is confirmed by the practice-based experience of frontline service providers such as Rape Crisis Centres who are increasingly dealing with the impact of sexually harmful behaviour in boys at younger and younger ages, often linked to use or exposure to pornography. Rape Crisis Centres also see the impact of the way in which pornography is used as a “grooming” tool by perpetrators of child sexual abuse. It is used as a coercive tool to normalise behaviours in young survivors who are shown pornography to prepare them for what they are told is normal, consensual behaviour.

User-generated pornography and sexually explicit images are also linked to abuse of women and girls. Research on “sexting”8 by the NSPCC found that it is linked to abuse, harassment and coercion, and that girls are disproportionately affected.

Social media

On 16 July 2013, EVAW and the Guardian held a round table discussion looking at the relationship between social media and VAWG. Present was Professor Sonia Livingstone who noted how social media has made a significant difference to the way in which we, and young people in particular communicate. Our network of friends is much bigger, and images are far more prominent in communications.

Whilst the problem of abuse of women and girls on social media sites is not a new one, it has recently received a much higher profile in the mainstream media. There are few social media spaces where this is not a problem.

EVAW led the campaigning on Twitter against the naming and abuse of the young woman raped by footballer Ched Evans after he was convicted at Caernarfon Crown Court in April 2012. This led to 10 convictions,9 although many thousands of people were implicated in the abuse. The young woman subsequently had to change her identity because of the abuse that she had received. The issue has made national news once again in the summer of 2013 when feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez and Shadow Crime Prevention Minister Stella Creasy MP received threats of rape and other abuse following the successful campaign to have women on banknotes.

Facebook has also been the focus of concern, prompting a global campaign called #FBrape in 2013 against pages and groups on the site that explicitly promote violence against women and girls with names such as “Why Indian girls get raped” and “Drop kicking sluts in the mouth”. Both Twitter and Facebook host pornography, even though it breaches their terms and conditions. Attention has turned more recently to Ask.fm which has been implicated in the suicide of teenager Hannah Smith, after she had been subject to bullying. Reddit has a reputation for hosting violent and misogynistic content and CEOP recently warned that live streaming of child abuse through Skype and other platforms is emerging as a growing method of abusers sharing child abuse images.10

Music videos

Robin Thicke’s summer hit “Blurred Lines” has drawn attention to lyrics and music videos that sexualise women and promote violence. The video (banned on YouTube) shows a string of near naked models being ogled by fully-clothed men, with an explicit reference in both lyrics and video to anal rape. Other popular videos by Justin Timberlake and Miley Cyrus also highlight issues around sexist and racist representations of women in music. There is increasing understanding of how the sexualisation of popular culture provides a conducive context for violence against women and girls.11

3. Solutions to Online Abuse

Joined up policies

The Home Secretary chairs the Inter-Ministerial Group on Violence Against Women and Girls which has heard from representatives of the music and advertising industry and regulators, and at a separate meeting has discussed new technology. This is very welcome but there needs to be further integration of VAWG in media and technology policies, and vice versa, including regular attendance of DCMS officials at VAWG stakeholder meetings and work with experts in the VAWG sector.

Enforcement and regulation

Recent cases of abuse on social media have highlighted how enforcement bodies may still not be responding adequately to violence and harassment perpetrated towards women online. The Crown Prosecution Service recently published guidelines on prosecutions in cases relating to social media, however it did not explicitly link with its own excellent VAWG Strategy, nor recognise the scale of abuse towards women and girls on social media. Women’s groups made submissions to the CPS that gender discrimination should be explicitly recognised in the guidelines and that, in complying with the Human Rights Act, freedom of expression should be balanced with right to respect for private and family life (Article 8 of the Human Rights Act) in conjunction with the prohibition on discrimination (Article 14). Likewise, the police need to take a consistent approach to violence and harassment online and offline for example threats to kill or rape, or stalking perpetrated online.

We believe there is a clear case for consistency in regulation also so that images that would not be broadcast on television or subject to the watershed should also be regulated in media videos, whether offline or online. We note that the British Board of Film Classification has strict guidelines on content in films that promote sexual violence towards women and that its research shows great public concern about such images.12 We would like to see regulation across the media take this approach.

We broadly welcome the Government’s approach to pornography, as announced by the Prime Minister in July, and in particular we are pleased that “rape” will be included in the definition of extreme pornography. We share concerns with others that filters may block material that is educational, sexual health sites or violence against women support services/campaigns.

Support for survivors

Most victims/survivors of abuse online do not report what has happened to them, as with abuse and violence that is perpetrated offline. It is therefore vital that there are specialist sexual violence and other support services in the community for victims/survivors of online abuse, whether or not they report to the police. Such provision is currently extremely patchy, especially for children and young people who are particularly vulnerable to online abuse.

Corporate responsibility

Much of the focus of recent campaigns about abuse on social media, including Facebook and Twitter, has been directed towards the social media companies themselves. A very important part of the solution is for these companies to have adequate terms and conditions on abuse and harassment in the first place, and for them to be properly and consistently enforced. Whilst YouTube has a policy of not hosting pornographic and sexually explicit content and did not host the Robin Thicke “Blurred Lines” video, it allowed Justin Timberlake’s sexually explicit video for “Tunnel Vision” on the grounds that it was “artistic”.13 Nevertheless, the impact on reinforcing a culture that sexualises and objectifies women providing a conducive context for VAWG was the same. We also believe that music and other creative industries have clear responsibilities not to produce material and images that are discriminatory or harmful.

Education and public campaigns

There is clear evidence from Ofsted14 as well as our own research that currently children and young people have patchy access to adequate PSHE/SRE provision in schools and that this is leaving young people vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. As a matter of child protection, all schools should be required to equip young people with the tools they need to understand issues such as sexual consent and respectful relationships, online safety and gender stereotyping. The 2000 SRE guidance is urgently in need of updating to take account of technological developments and to ensure that all forms of VAWG are adequately addressed. This should be backed up by ongoing public campaigns to change harmful attitudes and behaviours targeted at different sections of the community, such as the excellent Home Office ThisisABUSE campaign.

September 2013

1 http://ceop.police.uk/Documents/ceopdocs/CEOP_TACSEA2013_240613%20FINAL.pdf

2 Members include Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit, Object, Rape Crisis England and Wales, Amnesty UK, Women’s Institute, Imkaan, Women’s Aid, Eaves, Zero Tolerance, Equality Now, Fawcett, Platform 51, Respect, Refuge, Rights of Women, TUC and others.

3 Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, General Recommendation No. 19 (11th session, 1992).

4 http://ec.europa.eu/justice/funding/daphne3/multi-level_interactive_model/understanding_perpetration_start_uinix.html

5 See Dombrowski, S C, Gischlar, K L, Durst, T (2007). Safeguarding young people from cyber pornography and cyber sexual predation: a major dilemma of the Internet Child Abuse Review 16 (3) 153–170; Shannon, D (2008). Online Sexual Grooming in Sweden—Online and Offline Sex Offences against Children as Described in Swedish Police Data Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention, 9(2), 160–180.

6 “Young Men Using Pornography” by Michael Flood in Everyday Pornographies, 2011, ed K Boyle

7 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2135203/Jamie-13-kissed-girl-But-hes-Sex-Offender-Register-online-porn-warped-mind-.html#ixzz22xJMlIem

8 http://www.nspcc.org.uk/Inform/resourcesforprofessionals/sexualabuse/sexting-research-report_wdf89269.pdf

9 http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/nov/05/ched-evans-rape-naming-woman

10 http://ceop.police.uk/Documents/ceopdocs/CEOP_TACSEA2013_240613%20FINAL.pdf

11 Coy, M (2013). Children, Childhood and Sexualised Popular Culture in J Wild (Ed) Exploiting Childhood: How Fast Food, Material Obsession and Porn Culture are Creating New Forms of Child Abuse London: Jessica Kingsley

12 http://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-bbfc/media-centre/bbfc-annual-report-2012

13 http://www.rollingstone.com/music/videos/justin-timberlakes-tunnel-vision-ban-lifted-by-youtube-20130708

14 http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/not-yet-good-enough-personal-social-health-and-economic-education-schools

Prepared 18th March 2014