SEXUAL violence seems to be something we talk about a lot and yet the topic hardly ever gets the attention it truly deserves.

Yes, there are the events and cases that are openly talked about. The stories we see covered in the news, torn apart on social media, and discussed in the public sphere: Your everyday court and crime coverage, the many headlines and stories in the aftermath of #MeToo, the murder of Sarah Everard, the crimes by David Couzens and other Met Police revelations, Andrew Tate and his continuous stream of misogynist comments.

On the flipside, there are the many incidents that never make it to this realm. Those that never make it into the media but, nonetheless, happen every day: other sexual assaults that don’t get picked up as news, sexism, misogyny, the entrenched cultural attitudes that – in too many ways – still condone rape culture, treat violence against women as inevitable, re-enforce victim blaming narratives, and treat speaking about sex and consent as taboo subjects.

Never were these issues acknowledged in the classrooms I found myself in, where sex education purely consisted of us strapping a condom on to a wooden structure or a banana, and my biology teacher's bright red face trying to talk to us about periods, reproductive health and sexually transmittable diseases.

The thing is that whether and how these things are spoken about matters – particularly when it comes to public coverage. The way consent and sexual assault is talked about when it does make headlines and social media timelines, will feed cultural attitudes towards the subject as a whole.

Working as a journalist, I do regularly think about the things I say and the impact mine, and other’s, words can have. I too have written about the need for change when it comes to the above, carefully considering what I want to say and how to say it.

Yet, despite this personal interest and my efforts, I still found myself taken aback when visiting an exhibition by the Rosey Project, part of Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis, last week.

Rosey stands for “rape crisis offering support and education.” The project was set up both to help young women and girls looking for support after a rape or sexual assault, while also challenging the current culture, and working towards a mission to help prevent sexual violence.

The Reassess the Press exhibition is part of this mission. It was a project long in the making. Speaking with some of the survivors, I was told that the idea first came about around three years ago. Why analyse the press? Because of the impact it can have on survivors – something that those involved in the project said they noticed very quickly.

The 2021 Melody Report, also published by the Rosey Project, explored the impact of media reporting on survivors of rape and sexual assault in Scotland. It found that over 70 per cent of the participants surveyed felt that survivors of sexual violence were framed negatively in the media and that more than 80 per cent reported feeling deterred from reporting to the police because of these depictions.

The resulting exhibition that took place last month displayed findings of a research project which reviewed 43 pieces on rape and sexual assault – including that of The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Mirror and The Sun – from the perspective of survivors. “That was a key thing,” one of them explained: “Creating resources by survivors for survivors.”

Findings of the analysis showed a discrepancy between reports on children, where crimes were deemed “horrific”, “shocking” and “appalling”, versus adults, who – vice versa – were “often subjected to victim-blaming stereotypes, allegations of lying and suggestions of greed.” How those committing the crimes varied, too. High-profile perpetrators were “often portrayed positively;” their achievements, net-worth, family status (“father of five”), or perceived ‘good’ traits (“mild-mannered”, “so highly sought of”) used to describe them alongside their crimes. Only one of the 43 articles reviewed mentioned a helpline for rape crisis support in the UK. None had trigger warnings.

However, it was the accompanying illustrations that really pack the punch. The posters, created by designer Zoe Stromberg, may be colourful and, I must say, beautiful to look at on a surface level, but their messages are overwhelmingly poignant.

All of them were inspired by real-life experiences shared by survivors. Posters like “You might feel like drowning, don’t worry mermaids can swim!” shows a mermaid curled up on a stack of newspapers, surrounded by an ocean of common sentences seen in society’s discussion around sexual assault: “asking for it, were you drunk?, what were you wearing?”

All displays showcase how entrenched victim blaming is – it is what survivors that inspired them have experienced first-hand and, sadly, I don’t think they are alone. The fact I feel the way I do seeing it all in one place, makes me painfully aware how, when things aren’t displayed this way, I have become almost desensitised to it.

When I asked some of the survivors involved in the project whether the results of the research were expected, they told me they weren’t surprised by them, but that the findings are still “shocking.” “I don’t think it [the coverage] is out of maliciousness,” one of them said.

It isn’t (most of the time anyway - at least, that is what I would want to believe) – but does that make it right? Paired with the research published in 2021, detailing the ways in which the press covers sexual violence stops those needing help or justice coming forward, the exhibition’s message is a pill hard to swallow.

This collation on how coverage affects people in such a captivating format made it sink in quite how much words can matter. To learn about how even the smallest things in your working pattern, such as using active rather than passive language when reporting sexual assault, or including a helpline, can make such a big difference and yet never happen; it all left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Obviously, this exhibition was focused on one particular aspect – the press and how certain coverage can harm survivors – but that there is more work to be done across the board is undeniable. Victim blaming narratives permeate public discourse – in our schools, our universities, our conversations, our assumptions. It deeply affects survivors of sexual assault – and we need to stop.

Still, despite my ranting, the exhibition is also one of hope, because there is room for change. That is what the project is calling for. Hopes are for it to be taken to schools and shared widely. For me, it is an experience I can only recommend.

For more information, visit For anyone looking for support, The Rosey project helpline can be contacted by calling: 08088 00 00 14