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When it comes to male violence against women, Words Matter

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A pioneering police language policy created to end victim blaming in communications will be discussed at Cheltenham Literature Festival this year.

The Words Matter policy aims to be a guide for police communicators in a bid to better communicate with the public in relation to incidents of male violence against women and girls.

Gloucestershire Constabulary and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner have collaborated with the not-for-profit feminist activist group, This Ends Now, to create the policy, which is believed to be the first of its kind in UK police communications.

The team behind it will be at Cheltenham Literature Festival’s VoiceBox stage on Saturday 7 October at 3.15pm to have an open discussion about the importance of language.

The language used in any communications about male violence, intimidation or harassment of women and girls is vital. By using inclusive and accurate terminology, which makes it clear that the perpetrator is responsible for their actions, will help end victim blaming in police communications.

In August 2022, Gloucestershire Constabulary and This Ends Now began partneringon the Words Matter language policy for the Force. The policy aims forGloucestershire Constabulary to help set the standard of language used around incidents of male Violence and Intimidation Against Women and Girls (VIAWG). This project forms a key partof This Ends Now’s work as a not-for-profit to end the patriarchy.

As a Force it is crucial that all communications with the public and press, whether that is witness appeals posted online, press releases sent to media or awareness campaigns, are worded in a way which shows that victims do not choose to be victims.

Constabulary VIAWG lead Detective Chief Superintendent Suzanne Baker said: “The changes we’re looking to make are subtle, but there is power in words. It’s key we get it right in our own communications as what we say is often used by the media and seen by a wide audience.

“For example, stating that ‘a man raped a woman’ rather than ‘a woman was raped by a man’ puts the onus on the perpetrator being responsible for his own actions, and helps remove the idea that the victim had a choice.

“We’re grateful for the opportunity to have an open discussion at Cheltenham Literature Festival about the importance of language, both in the police and media.”

Nikki Owen, Co-founder and Director of This Ends Now, said: “The language we use makes a huge difference to how we think, and the evidence backs this up. 

“Police communications are the first thing the media read concerning sexual assaults. By getting the language right at the source, we can start to get the language right in the broader media, helping to change public opinion and behaviour by ending victim blaming and misogyny.

“We thank the Constabulary team for being open to discussion on this and willing to set the standard for the language used in sexual assault offences.”

The policy has been created by the Constabulary External Communications team, Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner Communications and Engagement Officer Emma Hillary and This Ends Now co-founders Nikki Owen and Sydney McAllister.

The Words Matter policy is going through an internal and external consultation process with UK-wide specialists and partner agencies before being implemented in the Force.

The Literature Festival session will discuss why there is a need for a policy, the background in which it was created and some of the areas it provides guidance on: from sex offences to domestic abuse.

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