Domestic abuse charities condemn The Sun for front page on JK Rowling’s ex-husband

Newspaper regulator receives more than 500 complaints amid wave of criticism

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Saturday 13 June 2020 17:58
JK Rowling in lengthy explanation over transgender comments

Domestic abuse charities have accused The Sun of “effectively handing a megaphone to a man who wants to cause fear and humiliation to a woman he has abused” after publishing a front-page interview with JK Rowling’s first husband.

The interview – which splashed with the headline “I slapped JK and I’m not sorry” – with Jorge Arantes comes after the Harry Potter author recently revealed she had experienced domestic abuse and sexual assault during her first marriage. She shared her experiences in a personal essay in which she was defending her recent controversial remarks about transgender people.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation, which regulates The Sun and is the UK’s biggest independent regulator of the newspaper and magazine industry, has already received more than 500 complaints in response to the front page.

The Sun has defended the move and said it was “disgusted” by Arantes’s comments after leading domestic abuse charities criticised Friday’s front page, which comes amid a rise in reports of domestic abuse during the coronavirus lockdown.

Jane Keeper, director of operations at Refuge, the UK’s biggest domestic abuse charity and largest provider of shelters for domestic abuse victims, told The Independent: “The front page of The Sun this morning is as irresponsible as it is disappointing. 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 has increased by 66 per cent, 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 – two women a week in England and Wales are killed by a current or former partner. This is not an issue to be taken lightly.

“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.”

A report recently released by MPs revealed domestic abuse killings doubled over 21 days during the public health emergency – with visits to the UK’s national domestic abuse helpline website rising by 950 per cent since the government implemented lockdown rules to stop coronavirus spreading.

Suzanne Jacob, chief executive of leading domestic abuse charity SafeLives, told The Independent the front page is not the “first upsetting headline” they had seen about domestic abuse.

She added: “Sadly I doubt it will be the last. What’s so stomach-churning about this cover, in particular, is that it takes the words of a perpetrator and splashes them across the front page – effectively handing a megaphone to a man who wants to cause fear and humiliation to a woman he has abused. The words will be familiar to many survivors; how many people will walk past a newsagent today and hear the voice of their own abuser ringing in their head?

“We ask why reporting rates are so low, why victims don’t speak up and come forward. With reporting like this, it really isn’t hard to understand why. Survivors deserve so much better than this.”

David Challen, a domestic abuse campaigner who helped free his mother Sally Challen from prison in a landmark coercive control case, argued column inches should never be “given to perpetrators”.

He said: “For victims of abuse to have their stories published recounting their abuse to then only have your abuser given a voice is extremely and dangerously irresponsible.

“This kind of irresponsible reporting violates widely shared guidelines, and has the power to shape the public’s understanding of domestic abuse. As it stands, victims and survivors of that violence are being repeatedly failed.”

Women’s Aid, lead domestic abuse charity, added: ”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.”

Lyndsey Dearlove, of Hestia, another domestic abuse charity, noted it takes “real bravery” to speak about your experience of domestic abuse – adding that we must believe those who disclose their experience.

“We should be providing a space for survivors to tell their story, not a platform for perpetrators to justify their inexcusable actions,” she added. “Already lockdown has seen a significant rise in domestic abuse and this is a crucial time for victims to access support and it should not be diluted by the perpetrator’s voice.”

The paper has defended its front page in a statement after facing criticism from campaigners, MPs and journalists – saying it had been attempting to “expose a perpetrator’s total lack of remorse”.

“We were disgusted by the comments of JK Rowling’s ex-husband, and branded him ‘sick’ and ‘unrepentant’ in our coverage,” the paper said.

“It was certainly not our intention to ‘enable’ or ‘glorify’ domestic abuse, our intention was to expose a perpetrator’s total lack of remorse. Our sympathies are always with the victims.

The Sun has a long history of standing up for abused women and campaigning against domestic violence. Our campaigns have kept refuges open, providing a safe place for women and children to escape violence, as well as getting laws changed. Over the years and with the support of charities we have empowered countless victims to come forward and seek help.”

Anyone who requires help or support can contact the National Domestic Abuse Helpline which is open 24/7 365 days per year on 0808 2000 247 or via its website nationaldahelpline.org.uk/

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