"Our conviction comes from the response we've had. I've been here five and a half years and nothing else we've ever done in the magazine has garnered anywhere near the kind of response that this campaign has," says Reveal features editor Su Karney, who's spearheading the ‘Report Every Rape’ campaign. Since an initial piece on sexual violence was published in the weekly magazine in February of this year, the features team at the Hearst women's interest brand has been working to highlight issues surrounding sexual assault. Many of Reveal's young female readers will have faced these issues or know someone who has, so the team is campaigning to increase funding for ISVAs (Independent Sexual Violence Advisors) through petitioning and providing spaces for survivors to share their stories.
In the first part of our interview with Su about the campaign and its place in the changing relationship between publications and their readers, we talk about the magazine's advocacy for its audience and the part the media could take in fighting common misconceptions that hinder people from getting the help that is available.
How has it been to work on such an important issue with the ‘Report Every Rape’ campaign?
Women’s interest magazines don’t just have to be about escapism – it’s really lovely to be able to work so hard on a topic that affects so many people. Somebody within everyone's group of friends, family, will have been affected by sexual violence, so this is something that people feel very strongly about, and it’s still such a taboo subject.
For media and women’s weekly magazines to go back to our roots and get on board with a really woman-led topic is really important. And I couldn’t have foretold just how important that would be until we got the response we did. We’re still getting emails all the time, every single day, to our ‘Report Every Rape’ inbox, with people just wanting to either show support, say thank you about something that we’ve written, or to say, “that happened to me, I want to share my story, too.” It feels like we’ve gone back to what women’s magazines should be, and maybe once upon a time were, about. Maybe we’d forgotten along the way.
That idea of women’s magazines beginning as a safe space for women to talk about issues specific to them – it seems as though magazines are going back to interacting with their readership and not just their advertisers.
Definitely, I mean, social media is so important. We also have our websites – we always carry contact details for Rape Crisis so people are always able to click straight through to them and see exactly what they should do if they are raped, where they can get help, who can support them – that is really important.
There is huge disparity between the actual number of false rape accusations made and the amount of reportage of that problem in the press – is the media’s focus often in the wrong place?
It’s a really difficult subject, because false accusations are obviously abhorrent, but the media – especially tabloids – tend to pick those stories up and run with them. It’s much more likely to make a front page splash than a story about a woman who has been raped, and that is a real problem. It leads more people to think that a lot of women ‘cry wolf’ and actually, compared to the statistics of women who have been raped, the number of women who lie about it are so miniscule. Women often don’t come forward because they’re scared they won’t be believed, but there is support out there.
We try to tell a victim’s story very much in their words, so it’s got that truth, that power and impact behind it, it’s their voice telling the story.
The support should be with the victims – there’s such an imbalance, such a biased view of what’s happening. Perhaps because rape is so common it’s not seen as something people are going to want to read about. That has to change; these are people’s lives.
We’ve noticed a lot of women’s magazines are running campaigns now – do you feel this is the way forward, to continue to engage with readers?
I do – women’s magazines have obviously been in decline – there’s nothing you can’t read online now. But the one thing a women’s magazine can do now is interact. Campaigns give readers something to latch onto, feel moved by, and get involved with. Reading what so-and-so was wearing at an awards ceremony – while that all has its place, if women’s magazines don’t evolve and find new ways to interact with their readers, it’s going to be harder to keep people buying print publications. This is going back to our roots, but we’ve had to go through a bit of a period of evolvement to get here.
Should men’s interest publications also be evolving? There’s a lot of controversy about the front covers of publications such as Nuts and ZOO magazine and their attitudes towards and representations of women – should they be starting similar campaigns?
Hmm, maybe. It’s very difficult for me to say, because I’m not really au fait with their readership or what their remit is. I think a young lad buying Nuts or ZOO is buying it for a very specific reason – because it’s got a semi-clad 'Hollyoaks' babe on the front!
What I’ve learnt from speaking to various police commissioners is that – in terms of rape and sexual violence – they’re really focusing on educating young people. Young lad’s mags could assume some of that responsibility also – as I say, they may already do so!
A lot of young people can access very hardcore alternative porn online and it could make them think that hitting a woman, or demanding a woman gives him sex is allowed, is the norm, you know? So, I think if they’re targeting young people, then men’s magazine do have a responsibility as well.
Do you also think celebrities' influence as role models (whether or not they intend to be) gives them a responsibility (and accountability) to their audience too?
Definitely. If you have any power or a public voice and you can use it to do good, why wouldn’t you?
When the campaign was gaining momentum with people getting in touch wanting to support it, we had some wristbands made saying ‘Report Every Rape’ and sent them out to celebrities that are very much in our readership remit – some of the ‘Hollyoaks’ and ‘TOWIE’ crew, etc. They tweeted pictures wearing the wristbands and it brought more people to our door in support. If we can reach just a few more people, it can only be a good thing.