Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

Newsnight coverage of the Max Clifford verdict

Dear Sue Douglas

I watched you on Newsnight last night talking about the Max Clifford case. We heard in the report that he has been found guilty of eight indecent assaults on women and girls
as young as 15.

You failed to follow the National Union of Journalists guidance on how to cover violence against women and girls* in the media.

You framed the violence against women and girls as the consequences of what women and girls will and won’t put up with. You implied that the behaviour and confidence of girls and women is a significant factor in violence against them.

The guidance says that you should:

Frame violence against women and girls (VAWG) as gender equality and human-rights abuses rather than as.... the consequence of women undertaking activities that would be unremarkable for men (walking alone, being out after dark, drinking in a bar, etc.).

You said:

“Most women now, this is not that many years on, would think absolutely I’m not going to do that, don’t be ridiculous. So it’s not even the kiss and tell culture. It’s I’m not kissing and I’m still telling”.

In response to Jeremy Paxman asking you whether a man taking his penis out and expecting to be masturbated is normal behaviour, you said:

“No, clearly and most 15 year old girls would get up and leave, why didn’t they?

I hope you understand that Max Clifford’s violence and the violence perpetrated by other men against women and girls is their responsibility. It is their responsibility to stop, not the responsibility of women and girls to act differently.

The guidance urges journalists to:

Take care not to imply that a survivor of gender-based violence might be somehow, even partially, to blame for the violence she has experienced, nor assume or imply that any of her behaviour might have triggered the abuse or that "she asked for it”.

You implied that the behaviour of women and girls is significant:

I think one of the important things the sort of watershed moments here is that what it also signifies is a real sea change about the way women behave and so I really genuinely think most of the young women I know, my children, my daughter, wouldn’t put up with that kind of behaviour”.

You implied the confidence of girls is an issue:

“20 – 30 years ago most women of that age probably wouldn’t have the confidence to think “Hang on, he’s just locked me in this office or this toilet, what do I do? And I went along with it dot dot dot”

I hope you understand that it is the responsibility of the perpetrator to behave differently, not the responsibility of women and girls to be more confident.

You said you find this difficult to believe now:

“It did surprise me that some of those girls, and as I said earlier, I can’t imagine them saying this today, our daughters’ age group, would say “I didn’t have the confidence to say no or I went along with it. I just, I find that really difficult to believe, now”.

I hope you understand that finding it hard to imagine something not does make it untrue. Many vulnerable women and girls do not have the confidence to say no to a man in positions of authority. It is the responsibility on those men who commit violence against women and girls to stop.

You don’t think men are able to or willing to change:

“ I don’t think that some men will behave any differently in the future. I think that will carry on”.

I hope you understand that by suggesting men won’t behave differently in the future, you absolve them from responsibility. We must do everything we can to prevent violence against women and girls, including responsible media reporting on the subject.

Please read the guidelines before commenting in the media on cases involving violence against women and girls in the future. You can read them here.

Yours sincerely,

End Victim Blaming

*The United Nations defines violence against women as any act of gender-based
violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or
suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation
of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.

Written by a member of the EVB Special Contributors Team

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6 thoughts on “Newsnight coverage of the Max Clifford verdict

  • Hecuba says:

    One wonders judging by Sue Douglas’ excusing/justifying mens’ pseudo sex right to sexually prey on women and girls, why Max Clifford was even prosecuted.

    According to Ms. Douglas males must never ever be held accountable or punished for their sexually predatory crimes committed against women and girls, because ‘some men will not behave differently in the future!’ Ah so that means it is useless having laws making certain male actions/behaviours criminal because it does not reduce/curb these male criminal acts.

    One could make the same case concerning males who murder other males wherein it is male victim who should have ensured his safety in order not to be murdered by another male!

  • Victim of MC says:

    I was deeply offended by Sue Douglas, she failed to explore the complexity of grooming children preferring to take the usual middle class condescending attitude that ‘her daughter’ would know better. If things were different now, we would not have any child sexual abuse cases in the courts! Grooming is v. complex. Despite no one in the past exposing this man for what he was (the press, his pals), it was clear many adults were afraid of him as well and did not have the courage to speak publicly against him. But Sue Douglas thinks “most 15 year old girls would get up and leave, why didn’t they?” The most dangerous issues here are ignorance of the subject and the myths that the media perpetuate regarding this subject. The media and MPS’s the day before the judge summing up in the trial were calling for the CPS to review their policy of arresting ‘high profile’ people. Shame on you David Davis and Ann Widdecombe! Perpetrators often groom family members, No one called MC a ‘gold digger’ after he took £1m from NI for having his phone hacked yet. Yet we were labelled liars and compensation chasers. Are victims of any other crimes, seeking justice, insulted in this way? No! And as for anonymity – lets not even go there! The media are now putting the boot in, but they were very happy to pay him the money and print his lies. The biggest threat to victims of sexual abuse is ignorance and the myths that surround sexual abuse and grooming. I urge you all to write to your MP’s, ignorant journalists and keep campaigning.

  • Liz Houghton says:

    Excellent analysis. As a retired journalist I am pleased to see that the NUJ guidelines have got it right and urge everyone involved in the media to study and follow them.

  • Another Victim Survivor says:

    The same ideology towards women & girl/child victims very much persists with police TODAY if you are a male child victim of rape…and grow up to be a gay adult. If your gay as an adult police (homophobic) thinking is you must have instigated sexual abuse against you (the victim) as a child. police thinking STILL remains EMBEDDED if you were raped from the age of six through to age ten by multiple abusers, but you grow up gay…its YOUR fault!

  • C J Walters says:

    Sue Douglas completely misses the point: victims of sexual grooming are often chosen specifically BECAUSE they are not confident or outspoken and it is this criteria that a perpetrator looks for, to ensure they achieve their goal. It is also often the opposite type of female , I. E. noticeably confident and outspoken, that is not only avoided by theses perpetrators but is also unable to comprehend or even appreciate what it is like to be groomed, lack confidence, and feel unable to say ‘no’ when instructed to perform degrading sexual acts. Sue can be grateful that she obviously falls into this second category. How dare she suggest that it is hard to believe the accounts of girls who felt unable to say ‘no’ ? This crime frequently exists in abusive marriages too, maybe Sue will also find it difficult to believe how an abused wife can find herself in the same position – repeatedly forced to perform sexual acts which repulse her. At least Sue can take reassurance from the fact that she (and her daughter, as she claims herself) are unlikely to be on a typical perpetrators ‘hit list’. Lucky Sue.

  • […] Later on that evening, to further add insult to injury, Channel 4 News deemed it appropriate to interview rape and sexual abuse denier, Barbara Hewson, who has in the past called for the lowering of the age of consent and referred to “poor persecuted old men” in the wake of Savile. Hewson appeared alongside former tabloid editor, Neil Wallis. As one Tweeter expressed, “hardly the dream team.” No experts from the numerous organisations who work tirelessly with and on behalf of survivors of rape and sexual abuse then? No, because we can’t have the public hearing unpalatable truths about not only the extent of sexual violence against women and girls but about how this impacts on the lives of those affected and others around them. Newsnight also covered the verdict in a highly inappropriate manner which can be read about here. […]