Media Sexism & Pornography

There is a groundswell of opinion that 'old' and 'new' media alike are awash with both unconscious sexist reporting and outright misogynistic content.

We believe the abuse of women in our culture is directly related to the harm many women suffer. The Head of the CPS in London has said, for example, that the media portrayal of rape is hindering attempts to make women feel safer about reporting it to the police.

Our work to eliminate harmful media include:


EVAW worked with members Imkaan and Object in 2013 on Rewind+Reframe, supporting young women to speak out against racism and sexism in music videos and calling on the music industry and regulators to take action.

Videos such as Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines (2013), Justin Timberlake’s Tunnel Vision (2013) and Calvin Harris’ Drinking From The Bottle (2012) have put a spotlight on music videos which are sexist and racist and even promote violence.

In 2013 EVAW worked with Imkaan and Object on Rewind+Reframe to enable young women to challenge these music videos by calling them out in a safe online space generously funded by Rosa. Read Ikamara Larasi on some of the key issues in The Observer here.

In October 2014 EVAW welcomed the launch of the BBFC/BPI pilot scheme to put age ratings on music videos.

If you want to challenge sexism and racism in music videos there are lots of things you can do:

  1. Artists and record companies 

    It’s easier than ever to contact the artist directly. Are they on Twitter? If not, do they have an official website? These usually have a contacts page, and will often include details of the record company too. You could even set up a petition on various websites  (like or the Government’s own e-petition site) and then spread the word via social media.Tell them how the videos make you feel, and let them know that you’d be more likely to buy their music in future if they change the way they portray women, and BME people.

  2. Websites/apps (e.g. YouTube/iTunes) 

    Where did you see the video? In the same way that you can complain to the artists/record companies, you could contact the website or app that hosted it. They will have policies against harmful content; for example, YouTube have a policy against hate speech, including on the basis of race and gender, here, and a policy on nudity and sexual content here.Even when policies don’t go far enough, your feedback can result in policies being changed- see the successful 2013 #FBrape campaign led by Women, Action & the Media, the Everyday Sexism Project and author/activist Soraya Chemaly

  1. Your MP 

    If you don’t get a good enough answer from any of the above, consider letting your MP know. It’s the job of MPs to make laws that work (even if you don’t vote for them – or don’t vote at all because you’re under 18) and that includes the laws on how the media treat people.Find out who your MP is, and how to contact them, here. Click on their name for the email address. Again, many of them can also be found on social media.

Who makes sure music videos obey the rules?

There are rules governing the broadcast of music videos, and it’s up to regulators to decide whether the rules have been obeyed or not: OFCOM and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

OFCOM covers videos broadcast on TV, e.g. on a dedicated music channel like MTV or as part of a normal programme on any other channel. They take action against the channel if it breaches their Broadcasting Code.

Breaches of the Code may include:

  • unjustified depictions of sex or nudity, or offensive language, before the 9pm watershed
  • representation after the watershed that “contains images and/or language of a strong sexual nature which is broadcast for the primary purpose of sexual arousal or stimulation”
  • material which may cause offence and is not justified in context.

You can read the current Code here and fill in an online complaint here.

The ASA covers videos shown as adverts, e.g. adverts for the artist’s single or album. They take action against the advertiser if it breaches their Broadcast Advertising Code.

Breaches of the Code may include:

  • Images which condone or encourage harmful discriminatory behaviour or treatment, or prejudice respect for human dignity.
  • Adverts which cause widespread or serious offence
  • Adverts which show 18-rated material

You can read the current Code here and fill in an online complaint here.

OFCOM and the ASA can both impose fines and prevent videos being shown again- but remember that they don’t cover illegal downloads, videos you watch online or videos you buy directly (e.g. from a provider like iTunes).

Complaining works!

See decisions about Steel Panthers’ Balls Out ad, and OFCOM on Duran Duran, Flo Rida, 50 Cent and others.

Abuse of women and girls via social media

In July 2013, EVAW and the Guardian hosted a roundtable of experts – including Professor Sonia Livingstone of the LSE and Director of the EU Kids Online network, Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project and Ikamara Larasi of black women’s organisation Imkaan – to discuss the abuse of women and girls via social media and how this abuse is being challenged. You can listen to the podcast here, and the report New Technology Same Old Problems is available to download.


EVAW supported our member Rape Crisis South London in their successful #banrapeporn campaign in 2012 to criminalise the possession of pornography depicting rape.

In July 2013 the Prime Minister announced that the Government will amend the extreme pornography legislations to criminalise the possession of rape pornography. More here.

The #banrapeporn campaign was covered widely in the media including BBC, Guardian, Daily Mail, Telegraph,and Sky.

Rape Crisis South London spearheaded a campaign to make it unlawful to posses pornographic images that depict rape and which promote sexual violence of women and girls. EVAW and over 100 women’s groups, academics and others – including the Deputy Children’s Commissioner – wrote to the Prime Minister calling for the loophole to be closed.

Letter to the PM from 100+ academics, women’s groups and others

Letter from the Ministry of Justice saying no evidence of harm

Campaign briefing from Rape Crisis South London

Legal briefing (2013) from Professor Clare McGlynn and Professor Erika Rackley

Legal briefing (2014) from Professor Clare McGlynn and Professor Erika Rackley

The law

The recent murder convictions of Mark Bridger and Stuart Hazell, involving violent and misogynistic pornography, have been both shocking and distressing. Moreover, the recent report from the Children’s Commissioner about children’s, especially boys’, access to pornography and that it is linked to harmful attitudes and behaviour to women and girls, is extremely worrying.

Currently, it is a criminal offence in England and Wales to possess pornographic material which is grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise obscene and explicitly and realistically depicts life threatening injury, serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals, bestiality or necrophilia (sections 63-67 of the CJIA 2008). Most prosecutions are for pornographic images of bestiality.

The vast majority of images depicting rape are lawful to possess, although they are banned in Scotland under its Extreme Pornography legislation.

What kind of images?

We are talking about sites that explicitly advertise sexually violent content and with titles such as ‘Father Raped Drunk Daughter’ and ‘Incest With Daughter at Family Cabin’. Research by Rape Crisis South London found that of the top 50 accessible ‘rape porn’ sites found through a Google search, 78% advertise rape content of under 18 year olds (e.g. “schoolgirl rape”) and 67% advertise rape content involving guns or knives.

Sexual violence

Government figures show that every year more than 400,000 women are sexually assaulted and up to 95,000 women are raped in England and Wales. Over a third of rapes involve a victim under the age of 16. We believe that allowing the lawful possession of ‘rape porn’ undermines this good work and sends a contradictory message about the seriousness with which sexual violence is taken. That sexual violence is a form of entertainment causes a huge cultural harm to our society and we are urging the Prime Minister to close this loophole.

Just the Womena report on endemic media sexism

As Lord Leveson prepared to publish his final report in Autumn 2012, our four organisations worked together again to produce a short report giving a ‘snapshot analysis’ of the portrayal of women in eleven national newspapers over a two week period in September 2012.

Our report is entitled just the womenwhich is what the Newsnight editor reportedly wrote in an email to a colleague concerning the lack of other authorities for evidence of Jimmy Savile’s abuse. We found that there is endemic sexism across the press and made specific recommendations for tackling it.

We responded to the publication of Lord Leveson’s report on 29 November by welcoming his recommendations and saying that he has ‘opened the door’ to new routes to tackle endemic media sexism in our press. In particular we are campaigning for the new press regulation regime to:

  • permit third parties to make complaints about discriminatory reporting
  • work to a new press code which has clear and strong rules on sexist discrimination
  • work to a complaints body which includes representative(s) who are expert on equality
  • use this opportunity to make the availability of sexually explicit material in our newspapers consistent with the broadcast watershed; ie it should not be permitted in unrestricted titles

In the longer term we want to see journalists and editors have training on sexism and specifically on violence against women and how not to convey victim blaming attitudes. We would also like the House of Commons culture, media and sport  committee to hold an enquiry into media sexism.

Zero Tolerance have published a guide to responsible media reporting on violence against women, Handle With Care, which is excellent and should be read by all journalists.

Taking our work as inspiration, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas also announced that she would be compiling her own report to ministers on sexist media (was this published?). More details can be found here (dead link), and Caroline can also be contacted @CarolineLucas and by using the hashtag #sexistpress.

Media Sexism & The Leveson Inquiry

In December 2012, the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Eaves, Object and Equality Now made submissions to the Leveson Inquiry, as reported in the Guardian, Evening Standard, Channel 4 News and others.

We called on the Inquiry to look at the way the media in Britain reports on violence against women, including victim-blaming and the perpetuation of myths about abuse, and how the press objectifies and degrades women.

In July 2012 our four organisations made a second joint submission to the Leveson Inquiry when Lord Leveson invited comments on his ‘draft criteria’ for what the new ‘rules and regulations’ for the press might be.

In January 2013 we were invited to give oral evidence to the Inquiry which representatives from our four organisations did together. The Guardian reported on this here.

Say No to the Press Industrys Royal Charter

Women’s organisations that gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry do not support the PressBoF (Press Standards Board of Finance) proposal for a Royal Charter. We do not believe that this proposal is compliant with Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations, nor do we have confidence that it will address the issues that we raised before the Inquiry. The debate following the Inquiry has not produced the hoped-for positive, open and inclusive discussion on a better way forward. We believe the PressBoF proposal represents no change to the previous regime and therefore in the alternative we support the cross-party agreement on a Royal Charter.

Download our submissions to the Department for Culture Media and Sport here

See Press Industry proposals for a Royal Charter here

See cross-party agreement on a Royal Charter here

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