The Sun newspaper in the United Kingdom has been fiercely criticized for a “stomach churning” front page featuring an interview with J.K. Rowling’s first husband under the headline “I slapped JK and I’m not sorry”.
The article, which HuffPost UK has chosen not to share, features a quote from Rowling’s first husband Jorge Arantes in which he admits to striking the Harry Potter author but denies “sustained abuse.”
Several of the UK’s largest domestic abuse charities have condemned the front page, slamming it as “irresponsible” and “upsetting.”
Jane Keeper, director of operations at Refuge, said: “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 have increased by 66% 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 ― 2 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.”
Suzanne Jacob OBE, chief executive of domestic violence charity Safe Lives said the article, which emerged just a day after Rowling revealed she had faced abuse in the past, was tantamount to “handing a megaphone” to a perpetrator of abuse.
She said: “This isn’t the first upsetting headline we’ve seen about domestic abuse, and 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.”
Many newspapers follow media guidance from regulator-backed campaign group Level Up when it comes to reporting on fatal domestic abuse, focusing on accountability for the perpetrator, accuracy when reporting the crime, dignity for the woman and her family, promoting equality by avoiding insensitive language and avoiding generic stock images that suggest domestic abuse is simply a physical crime.
Janey Starling, campaign director at Level Up and author of the IPSO-backed guidance said: “We live in a country where two women a week are murdered by a partner or ex-partner in acts of fatal domestic abuse. It’s a matter of public safety that press step up to their responsibility to respect victims and their dignity.
“Domestic abuse is when someone wants absolute power and control over their partner. When newspapers publish domestic abuse from the perspective of the abusive partner, they are giving them further power and control, and disrespecting a victim’s dignity and privacy.”
“Last year, both regulators IPSO and IMPRESS backed the Level Up guidance. Many newsrooms have transformed their reporting practices. But front pages like today prove that guidance is not enough. If IPSO and the press are committed to using their power and influence to end domestic abuse in the UK, which they should be, it’s time to bring in stronger regulation and penalties for publications who go against reporting rules.
“This is a matter of life and death for women all across the UK, and it’s time for the press to stand on the side of the victim, not the abuser.”
The front page has also been fiercely criticised by MPs, with Jess Phillips describing it as “awful” and Stella Creasy saying “heads should roll” for the publication of the piece.
Fellow Labour MP Harriet Harman also wrote: “Shame on The Sun. Men who hit women will be emboldened. Women who are hit blamed.
“Not just your women readers. Your women employees too.”
The cover first emerged on Thursday night, with #DontBuyTheSun quickly picking up traction as social media users voiced their disbelief at the publication of the article.
Rowling’s publication of a lengthy essay – in which she put forward a defense of her comments on trans identity – on Wednesday night did not name Arantes specifically, but did refer to her first husband.
Many fans of her books, including trans people and trans allies, have voiced their hurt in the wake of a series of tweets made by Rowling, but on Friday morning made it clear that The Sun’s interview with Arantes was unjustifiable.
Met with a barrage of complaints on social media, The Sun moved to defend the piece on Friday morning – claiming it had “a long history of standing up for abused women”.
In a statement, a spokesperson said: “We were disgusted by the comments of JK Rowling’s ex-husband, and branded him ‘sick’ and ‘unrepentant’ in our coverage.
“It was certainly not our intention to ‘enable’ or ‘glorify’ domestic abuse, our intention was to expose a perpetrators total lack or 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 space for women and children to escape violence, as well as getting laws changed.
“Over the years we have empowered countless victims to come forward and seek help.”
IPSO has been contacted by HuffPost UK for comment.