Ruling

01109-23 Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre v The Sunday Times Scotland

    • Date complaint received

      8th June 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01109-23 Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre v The Sunday Times Scotland

 

Summary of Complaint

1. The Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre, acting on its own behalf and on behalf of its Chief Executive Officer, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Times Scotland breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Nicola v JK: the lightning rods in a bitter gender war”, published on 18 December 2022.

2. The article reported on the debate around gender identity taking place in Scotland and argued that Nicola Sturgeon and JK Rowling had become “figureheads for rival camps arguing over a landmark bill”. It opened by reporting that “the chief executive of the Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre… argued that women who objected to being counselled by someone who was born a man should “expect to be challenged on your prejudices” as part of their journey towards building “a new relationship with your trauma”. Doing so would require women in distress to “reframe your trauma””.

3. The article also appeared online under the headline “Nicola Sturgeon v JK Rowling: the lightning rods in Scotland’s bitter gender war”.

4. The quotes in the article from the Chief Executive Officer came from a podcast interview, in which she had said: "There are a group of survivors who will be watching and seeing what is being played out about spaces they are potentially going to use, and be informed or misinformed about what actually happens here and be, possibly be fearful. And I think if you're worried about these things, about inclusion and what trans inclusion means within women's organisations and if your local women's organisation, or Rape Crisis Centre or women's aid is openly trans inclusive and you just don't understand, reach out to them and ask those questions.[…] And we come as survivors with experiences that often feel to the outside world as holding prejudice. So we might have fear of men of a certain ethnicity, we might have fear of trans people, and it could be linked to an experience of trauma. I think it is, it is okay to hold those things as long as you are willing to acknowledge that, in support, we will accept that. But there is a difference also when, and I am not sure if I said this as clearly and transparently as I want to, but I’m trying. Apologies, if I haven't done it well… But I think the other thing is that sexual violence happens to bigoted people as well. And so, you know, it is not a discerning crime. But these spaces are also for you. But if you bring unacceptable beliefs that are discriminatory in nature, we will begin to work with you on your journey of recovery from trauma. But please also expect to be challenged on your prejudices, because how can you heal from trauma and build a new relationship with your trauma, […] a life before traumatic incidents. But if you have to reframe your trauma, I think it is important as part of that reframing, having a more positive relationship with it, where it becomes a story that empowers you and allows you to go and do other more beautiful things with your life, you also have to rethink your relationship with prejudice."

5. The complainant said the article had presented quotes from the Chief Executive Officer in a misleading manner, in breach of Clause 1. It said that, although the Chief Executive Officer had used the phrases quoted, they were not a comment on the organisation’s position in relation to “women who objected to being counselled by someone who was born a man”, as reported by the article. Furthermore, the complainant said that the Chief Executive Officer’s comments were about challenging people on discrimination more generally, and that at no point had she referred to someone being counselled by a trans worker.

6. The complainant also said that the Chief Executive Officer had clearly differentiated between survivors who approach the services provided by the complainant with fear about trans people due to their experiences, and people who come with discriminatory attitudes. It said that the Chief Executive Officer had made the distinction by saying “but there is a difference also when,” as she spoke of the two types of cases.

7. In support of the complainant’s position, it also provided a blog post written by the Chief Executive Officer after her appearance on the podcast, which it said expanded on what was meant by her comments. The blog began: “I am writing this because I want to make clear what I said on the [podcast], whilst I wish my language had been clearer, a few sentences in particular have been taken out of context.” She went on to state that neither “her, the Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre or the Rape Crisis movement in Scotland [is] looking to re-educate survivors when they come in for the urgent, potentially life-saving support they may need – that would be inappropriate. What we can do, when they are ready and if they are interested, is to help them take part in wider discussions about how violence against women is a cause and a consequence of a deeply unequal and sexist society […] This is what is meant by “reframing trauma”.”

8. The publication did not accept that the Chief Executive Officer’s comments had been taken out of context and were presented in a misleading manner. The publication noted that in the podcast the Chief Executive Officer had referred to "a group of survivors who will be watching and seeing what is being played out about spaces they are potentially going to use” and mentioned those who are concerned about "what trans inclusion means within women’s organisations and if your local women’s organisation, or Rape Crisis Centre or Women’s Aid is openly trans inclusive". It noted also that the Chief Executive Officer had said that " if you bring unacceptable beliefs that are discriminatory in nature […] please also expect to be challenged on your prejudices." It said that it was clear from these remarks that the Chief Executive Officer was talking about attitudes to trans inclusivity among users of women’s organisations and Rape Crisis Centres, rather than racism and transphobia in general. As such, the publication said the Chief Executive Officer was clearly talking about challenging “prejudices” of women who were using domestic violence shelters – it did not, therefore, accept that the article had reported her comments in an inaccurate manner, or in a misleading context.

9. It accepted that the Chief Executive Officer had not explicitly referred to counselling in the quoted portion of the podcast. However, it did not accept that the reference to “women being counselled”, in the context of reporting on the Chief Executive Officer’s comments, was significantly inaccurate. It said that counselling is a central activity of Rape Crisis Centres and, if trans people were employed on equal terms in such centres, they may also be employed as counsellors. It said that, while the Chief Executive Officer did not explicitly mention counselling, it followed from her argument that women who have been the victims of sexual violence may be offered counselling by people who were born male; and she had said that users who object to trans inclusion should "expect to be challenged on your prejudices". The publication said the article could not be significantly misleading when it merely set out the meaning of the words the Chief Executive Officer had used. The publication said, while the Chief Executive Officer may now dispute (in the blog post) that her words meant women who objected to trans women in rape crisis centres should expect to be challenged on their prejudices, it did not change what a reasonable listener would have understood from the words she used in the podcast.

10. While the publication did not accept it had reported the Chief Executive Officer’s comments in a misleading way, seven days after the article’s publication and over the festive period it offered – prior to a complaint being made to IPSO - to amend the online version of the article as a gesture of goodwill. It initially offered to change the reference to "women who objected to being counselled by someone who was born a man" to "women who are concerned by the presence of biological males in women's spaces". It also offered to publish an item in its regular print Corrections and Clarifications column, making clear that the Chief Executive Officer had not referred to “counselling” when she made her quoted comments.

11. The complainant did not accept this proposal. It said that the Chief Executive Officer at no point discussed “biological males in women’s spaces” and had merely spoken in general terms about challenging racism and homophobia.

12. The publication then offered to change the phrase "women who objected to being counselled by someone who was born a man" to "women who are concerned by the presence of trans women in women's organisations and Rape Crisis Centres". 13. The complainant did not accept this amendment either. It said the suggested amendment did not address the fact that the Chief Executive Officer had not made the remarks the article attributed to her and that the offered wording repeated the misrepresentation in an amended form.

Relevant Clause Provisions

Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Findings of the Committee

15. The publication had in part quoted directly from the Chief Executive Officer’s comments, and in part paraphrased them. The question for the Committee was whether the publication had taken care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information and whether the presentation of the Chief Executive’s comments was significantly misleading as to require correction.

16. The Committee first considered whether it was accurate for the publication to present the Chief Executive Officer’s comments on the podcast as relating specifically to trans inclusion, as opposed to a more general comment on the organisation’s approach to challenging discrimination of all kinds. The Committee found that, where the Chief Executive Officer had directed her subsequent remarks to those who are “worried about these things, about inclusion and what trans inclusion means within women’s organisations and if your local women’s organisation, or Rape Crisis Centre or Women’s Aid is openly trans inclusive”, it was not misleading to present the comments as relating to the specific issue of trans inclusion at rape crisis centres.

17. The Committee then considered whether it was significantly misleading, inaccurate, or distorted to report that the complainant’s comment that people could “expect to be challenged on your prejudices” had been directed at those “who objected to being counselled by someone who was born a man”. The Committee accepted that the Chief Executive Officer had not explicitly referred to counselling in her comments. It also took into account that the meaning of the comments made by the Chief Executive Officer were ambiguous; the Committee noted that in the interview the Chief Executive Officer had acknowledged “I am not sure if I said this as clearly and transparently as I want to”, and in the blog written after the podcast, she had said “I wish my language had been clearer”. The Committee further noted that the reference in the article to “women who objected to being counselled by someone who was born a man” was not directly attributed to the Chief Executive Officer using quote marks, in contrast to comments of hers that were presented as direct quotes. As such, the Committee considered that the article had, on balance, indicated that the article was presenting the publication’s interpretation of a general sentiment expressed by the Chief Executive Officer which it had applied to a specific situation. In light of the Chief Executive Officer’s comment that individuals would be “challenged on [their] prejudices” in the course of "working with you on your journey through trauma", the publication had interpreted this comment as being a reference to the services which would be provided to assist survivors in addressing the harm which they have suffered. Where it was not in dispute that counselling was a key activity of rape crisis centres, and the complainant had referred to users of these services, the Committee did not consider the report of the comments made by the Chief Executive Officer to be significantly misleading.

18. Following publication of the article, the complainant had set out what the Chief Executive Officer had intended by her comments, including that the complainant would not look to re-educate survivors who used its services. The question for the Committee, however, was whether the article was significantly misleading as a report of the comments which had initially been made by the Chief Executive Officer, rather than the meaning she intended by her comments or a report of her position on the subject. The complainant’s position was that in her comments the Chief Executive Officer had clearly differentiated between service users who feared trans people due to trauma and those who held discriminatory beliefs separate of any trauma. The Committee noted that, even if it was accepted that the Chief Executive Officer’s comments had made the distinction between these two types of service users, both those users of the complainant’s services who had “trauma-based fear” and “discriminatory beliefs” could be women “who objected to being counselled by someone who was born a man”. In this context, the Committee did not find that the report of the comments themselves had been misleading or inaccurate. There was, therefore, no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusions

19. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

22. N/A

 

Date complaint received:  03/01/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  19/05/2023