If recent allegations of sexual misconduct by Oxfam international aid workers have reminded us of anything, it’s that no sector or industry can be presumed to be free from those who would misuse their power and influence to exploit others whose lives and livelihoods depend upon them.

Claims that the charity covered up an inquiry into allegations that senior male staff working in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake paid local women for sex have quite rightly met with outrage and indignation. It’s almost unthinkable that workers responsible for providing relief to a disaster-hit population should abuse their position to coerce sex from poverty-stricken women.

Almost unthinkable. Like many, I suspect, my initial shock upon watching the allegations unfold was accompanied by an all too familiar sense that there would surely be more to follow.

In a post Weinstein and #MeToo world, it would be incredibly naïve of any of us to believe that, when it comes to abuse of women, there are only isolated incidents.

Widespread media coverage of sexual assault has had a huge impact in illuminating the scale and spectrum of violence perpetrated by men against women since revelations of Hollywood harassment first hit the headlines last October.

The sheer volume and weight of women’s experiences of abuse has been overwhelming, but it is only by shedding light on those experiences that we can eradicate the attitudes and power structures that allow gender-based violence and harassment to continue unchecked.

Predictably enough, in the days that followed the initial exposé of the Oxfam inquiry, further tales of exploitation of vulnerable women and children by overseas aid workers emerged.

As the allegations continued to mount up, however, my sense of déjà vu was triggered as much by the unhelpful language used by some writers to describe abuse as by the recognition of the familiar power structures and cultures of silence that perpetuated it.

The accusations against Oxfam workers were repeatedly described as a ‘sex scandal’, with the senior official at the centre of the inquiry accused of hosting ‘sex parties’.

It’s language that puts reports of the exploitation of vulnerable, prostituted women in the same salacious category as a celebrity’s infidelity and ignores the imbalance of power that allegedly allowed wealthy Western men to financially coerce poor Haitian women into sex.

All too often, in fact, the same media reporting that shines a light on the prevalence of violence against women serves to reinforce harmful myths and stereotypes while masking the gender inequality and abuse of male power that perpetuates it.

It’s there in reports of women murdered by their current or former partners. Stories that centre on the male perpetrator and his supposed motivation – usually cited as a relationship breakdown or financial instability – while rendering the female victim almost invisible. The reality is that divorce doesn’t kill women. Neither does bankruptcy. Men do.

It’s in the opinion pieces that offer up the straw man of 'consent confusion' in response to the multitudes of women sharing their experiences of sexual assault, as if anything other than rape at knifepoint by a stranger in a dark alleyway can be explained away as a mere misunderstanding.

Why does it matter? Surely the important thing here is that allegations and experiences of abuse are brought to light, not column inches wasted quibbling over the language used to describe them.

The reality, though, is that the media shapes attitudes towards violence against women even while reporting upon it. As such, journalists have a duty to ensure abuse is never trivialised or sensationalised in their work.

It’s why Zero Tolerance instigated the Write to End Violence Against Women awards. The annual awards seek to drive up standards in the media by recognising and rewarding writers who report on the issues responsibly and confront the systemic inequality that underpins gender-based violence in their work.

For the second year running, the Sunday Herald is media partner for the campaign, working with Zero Tolerance to provide a bursary to a new writer with a passion for advancing gender equality as well as the opportunity to publish a series of articles in this paper addressing violence against women.

As outgoing bursary holder, it’s been a privilege to contribute to a campaign that plays a vital role in furthering public understanding of gender-based violence and to be published in a newspaper that leads by example.

There are still too many corners of the media where misrepresentation of the issues and irresponsible reporting reinforce attitudes that perpetuate violence against women.

The Write to End Violence Against Women awards are a welcome opportunity to celebrate what can be achieved when journalists give due care and attention to the complexity and scale of gender-based abuse.

Annie McLaughlin was the 2017-18 bursary winner of the Zero Tolerance Write to End Violence Against Women Award

Zero Tolerance is now seeking a previously unpublished writer for the 2018 Write to End Violence Against Women Bursary.

• The bursary recipient will produce at least 6 articles of approximately 500-1000 words on the subject of violence against women.

• This may involve investigative journalism, opinion pieces, straight reporting, or interviews which will be jointly commissioned by Zero Tolerance and The Sunday Herald.

• All pieces will be jointly commissioned by Zero Tolerance and The Sunday Herald.

• The payment is £75 per piece for 6 articles (£450 total), as well as reasonable expenses.

The deadline is midnight 12 March.

For more information and to apply for the position please visit the Zero Tolerance website: http://www.zerotolerance.org.uk/news/write-end-violence-against-women-bursary-2018-call-applications