The winners of the inaugural Ending Violence Against Women Media Awards were announced on 25 November by the End Violence Against Women Coalition.

The winning stories tackle sexual harassment in UK schools, so-called honour-based violence in the UK, the reality of being detained in an immigration centre, the impact of UK abortion law on women, and the experience of three black women with mental health, among other issues.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls was also observed on 25 November, and Polly Neate, chief executive of Women's Aid and a judge at the awards, explained the jury aimed to highlight reporting that did not promote harmful stereotypes.

"A lot of media coverage of this issue is blaming the victim, particularly in sexual violence for example, talking about women as though they've kind of provoked the attack, but also domestic abuse survivors as well are often written about as though the abuse against them is in some way provoked by their behaviour.

"One big issue I was looking for was whether, instead of perpetuating those harmful stereotypes, were they challenging those stereotypes, were they reporting in a helpful way?" spoke to Neate, as well as Salma Haidrani, winner of the features category, and Samara Linton, winner of the new journalist category, to find out what journalists covering violence against women should keep in mind during and after the reporting process.

Avoid the traps

Neate said two traps journalists can fall into are blaming the women for what has happened or dehumanising them. "I think quite often you get domestic violence cases where people will say 'we never thought this would happen because he seemed like such a lovely guy, I've known him for years and he was a great member of the community and a great dad and a lovely husband' and all that, and almost ignoring the fact that he is the one who's been violent. And meanwhile nothing is said about her. So she's almost erased from her own story. That's one trap, not talking about the victim at all really.

"Another trap a lot of journalists fall into with violence against women is blaming the victim. A lot of that can happen in quite overt cases," she said, pointing to articles about rape that mention what the woman was wearing or whether she had been drinking.

Don't sensationalise

Make sure that what you're writing doesn't hurt communities or doesn't hurt the women affectedSalma Haidrani, freelance journalist

Haidrani is a freelance journalist who covers mainly religion and women's issues – her winning story was published in The Debrief and discussed the incidence of so-called honour-based violence in the UK, which she points out is a cultural issue as opposed to a religious one.

Speaking to women for the story has proven a complex task for Haidrani, even under the promise of anonymity, and she advises other journalists to be patient and to avoid being "pushy".

"They need to step back and think 'am I ready to tell my story, is this something that I want to do', especially if it's something in a national platform. I've worked with a lot of marginalised communities previously, so I have that kind of experience and I built on that and I could show this is something that I've worked on before so I'm not here to sensationalise this."

When pitching stories about violence against women to editors, it is also key to outline the case correctly and have the facts on hand.

"Make sure that what you're writing doesn't hurt communities or doesn't hurt the women affected – it doesn't sensationalise or take away what they wanted, how they wanted to come across."

The fear of labels

Linton is a medical student who started writing about women's experiences with sexism on campus during her degree. Her work for Black Ballad won her the new journalist award, but she told she did not set out to "make a point about violence against women", instead wanting "the conversations that women are having among themselves to be something that they can have online as well and for everyone else to see it".

For Black Ballad, she wrote about Doniele, who lived in the UK for 17 years before being detained at Yarl's Wood and threatened with deportation, and about the women behind the I'm Tired project, highlighting the impact stereotypes, micro-aggressions and harassment can have on people.

By telling Doniele's story, she wanted to challenge the narrative about the types of people who are detained in immigration centres, and what the reality of going through that is like.

Linton also interviewed three black women about their first-time experiences of mental health.

"I found women are very comfortable speaking about their experiences, what they are not comfortable with is having their name attached to those experiences, so whenever I approach them, the first thing I always say is 'I am happy to make this anonymous'.

Women are very comfortable speaking about their experiences, what they are not comfortable with is having their name attached to those experiencesSamara Linton, Black Ballad

"And once I've said that, people are very free and very open, and often at the end of it, after offloading and after having that opportunity to get that whole experience out without the fear of being exposed or the fear of what their friends or family might think, I think that process in itself is very therapeutic."

In some cases, women have even given her permission to identify them after initially agreeing to speak to her under the condition of anonymity.

"A lot of the fear attached to it is because you don't want people to see you differently, you don't want people to attach this label of victim to you, and once you remove the fear of that label being attached to you, people are very open."

Be aware of the dangers

While some women might be willing to speak more openly about their experiences under the promise of anonymity, Neate explained journalists should ensure they have access to support before and after recounting their events and assess whether their story appearing in the media could put them in danger.

She advised reporters to go through a specialist organisation like End Violence Against Women or Women's Aid, that can ensure women who speak out about their experience have access to support, and are not at risk.

"Another thing that a lot of journalists don't realise is, particularly with domestic abuse, the level of danger the women are in from the perpetrator. Very often if a woman does a media interview and the perpetrator sees it, they're going to be absolutely furious, and that woman can be in quite a lot of danger.

"So it's really important for journalists to understand that, and understand that safety is really important and sometimes women themselves may not necessarily know enough to think through what the implications of doing the interview might be.

"Even if she's not being identified some of the circumstances might be enough to identify her. That's what perpetrators do, they make massive efforts to find them after they've escaped. Without even the woman herself realising that it could be putting her in danger, it still could be."

Read next:

IFJ guidelines for reporting on violence against women

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