A thousand words: How photography is being used to challenge domestic abuse stereotypes

Photo project with survivors aims to change common representations of abuse

SCOTTISH WOMEN’S AID and Zero Tolerance have launched a new creative photo project to highlight women’s diverse experiences of domestic abuse, aiming to counter the common usage of stereotyped images.

The project, titled ‘a thousand words’, was developed in collaboration with survivors of domestic abuse and hopes to challenge the notion of domestic abuse being only about physical violence.

Photographer and storyteller Laura Dodsworth took the 15 photographs, which are available and free for publications to use as stock images.

One of the survivors involved in the project explained why creating these images was important. She said: “I spent a long time denying to myself I was actually being abused. It took me four years to recognise my situation.

"If photographs always show hitting or bruises it means that men who don’t hit absolve themselves of the label abuser." Domestic abuse survivor 

“Bruises are the standard thing in photos of domestic abuse. There’s a theme that it looks like the man is getting angry and losing control, but often the abuser is very much in control.

“Abuse is also emotional, financial, verbal and being isolated. If photographs always show hitting or bruises it means that men who don’t hit absolve themselves of the label abuser because they don’t leave bruises. Also it makes people think that if a woman doesn’t have bruises she must be OK.”

The project was inspired by Scotland’s proposed Domestic Abuse Bill, and its launch coincides with the stage one debate in parliament on the bill taking place on Thursday 28 September.

The charities are highly supportive of the bill’s aim of creating an offence which recognises domestic abuse as a pattern of behaviour, moving away from the focus on physical violence alone.

Brenna Jessie, external affairs officer at Scottish Women’s Aid said that the project intends to encourage a more accurate reflection of the experience of the women who access support for domestic abuse.

“We desperately want people to know that there is no hierarchy when it comes to abuse." Brenna Jessie, Scottish Women's Aid

She said: “So often at Women’s Aid we hear women question whether their experience counts as abuse – they have no black eye, they have no burst lip.

“’a thousand words’ is important, because we desperately want people to know that there is no hierarchy when it comes to abuse; whether it’s controlling behaviour, threats, humiliation, sexual or physical violence – it all ‘counts’ and it is all real abuse.”

Zero Tolerance, which campaigns to end violence against women, has done a considerable amount of work to highlight ways in which media coverage of gender based violence could be improved.

For example, the organisation previously published a guide to responsible media reporting of violence against women and it is in its fifth year of running a Write to End Violence against Women competition for journalists and bloggers, which recognises good coverage of the issues.

READ MORE: Kirsty Strickland: A week of male violence

Lydia House, media and events officer at Zero Tolerance said that one of the issues addressed by the photo project is the lack of diversity in the images which are typically used.

She said: “Domestic abuse affects women of all classes, ages and backgrounds but current stock images don’t reflect this.

“With ‘a thousand words’, publications have a real choice in the images they use to illustrate stories about domestic abuse; we hope to see a real step forwards in the depth and diversity of women’s stories represented by the media.”

The project aims not only to improve representations in the media, but also to ensure that women who recognise their experiences in these images will come forward and seek support.

Pictures courtesy of Laura Dodsworth

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