Sexual Violence in Portuguese Mediascape

36 months

UnCoveR is the first-ever comprehensive transdisciplinary study about sexual violence in Portuguese mediascape. It examines how the media reported, discussed and imagined sexual violence between 2011 and 2022, and how audiences interacted with these media narratives. Inaugurated by the Istanbul Convention, a legal-political landmark in the prevention of gender-based violence, this period is marked by significant media visibility of sexual violence and important institutional interventions and movements aimed at combating (the impunity) of sexual violence. Gender norms and jurisprudence underwent major changes in the last decades. Growing public awareness and vast research have contributed to increasing knowledge on sexual violence. Portugal is on par with the EU in terms of legislation concerning gender equality and the compliance towards international regimes of protection of women’s rights. Nonetheless, sexual violence remains pervasive. Stemming from this puzzle, UnCoveR explores the centrality of the (media’s) mediation of sexual violence, shedding light on (mediated) causes, processes, and effects.
UnCoveR assumes that sexual violence is a gendered phenomenon framed by notions of sexual normativity, masculinity, femininity and power dynamics, which in contexts shaped by colonial legacies and anxieties regarding immigration like Portugal interact with notions of race, ethnicity, religiosity and nationality. In discourse, it is often a figure for other social, political, economic concerns and tensions, hence pervading discourses of war and conflict.
Within this context, patterns of media visibility can serve political agendas, generate moral panic, be a marker of social/racialized exclusion or promote gender justice and equality.
UnCover capitalises on research carried out in the project DeCode/M (Media and Masculinities in Portugal) and the team’s expertise on sexual and genderbased violence and on Portuguese debates on sexism, racism, colonialism and immigration. Adopting an intersectional approach to social phenomena and informed by research on sexual violence particularly focusing on the role of media in (de)constructing and (re)producing imaginaries, UnCoveR’s originality relies on three main dimensions:
1. It examines the performative discursive relationship between the stories and the contexts/events which made sexual violence visible, while exploring the (social, gendered and/or racialized) structures of power that underpin media representations and agencies;
2. It explores a case study (Portuguese media), whose embeddedness in the international media production and consumption opens up for an examination and (r)evaluation of the processes of (de)constructing and (re)producing narratives of sexual violence. It inquires the time and space frames of these narratives and their performative combination of different sources, while assessing the effects of the (inter)national developments in the local coverage, debates, imaginaries and realities of a semi-peripheral postcolonial Western-European democracy;
3. It examines how media narratives were appropriated and reinterpreted by audiences, hence addressing their agency in (re)producing cultural imaginaries and/or in contributing to social change.
Methodologically, UnCoveR will collect, map and examine the representations of sexual violence in the Portuguese media and among media producers and audiences with the support of mixed methods and methodological tools from Media, Gender, Queer and Cultural Studies: critical discourse analysis, content analysis, frame analysis, audiovisual semiotic analysis, focus groups discussions, in-depth interviews.
The team includes experts in Sexual Violence, Media, Gender, Memory, Cultural Studies, Postcolonialism, Racism and International Relations.
The project’s outputs include a book, articles and dissemination activities, pedagogic materials for media literacy, recommendations for professionals and scientific knowledge to inform future research and initiatives by institutional agencies.
UnCover will produce knowledge that contributes to further Portugal’s compliance with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (5, 10, 16), the H2020 goal of integrating gender/sex analysis in research and the Portuguese National Plan for Science and Technology.
Hence, UnCoveR impacts on three levels:
Academic: as a pioneer study, it contributes to the production of knowledge by the national science system in a priority area of the European science policies;
Political/social: by addressing priorities of Agenda 2030, it targets a specific professional class in order to transform journalistic practices that normalize sexual assault and perpetuate gender-based violence and inequality;
Cultural: by promoting media literacy, it contributes to drive forward social change, namely to advance efforts to combat and prevent sexual violence and to further gender justice and equality in Portugal.

gender studies, rape narratives, intersectionality, postcolonialism
Funding Entity
Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology