Snap goes the violent man,
Cackling or naggin was the “cause” of the violence,
Pop goes the gun!
Here is an example of a cookie-cutter approach to reporting that is used for domestic violence. The media reports that a “nice guy” (as reported by his friends, family and neighbors) “snaps” and shoots his wife/ex-wife/girlfriend/children. The cause? Why, her behavior, of course.
Read the article by The Washington Post, “Park Ranger ‘Snapped’ Before Slayings of Family, Court Told” (April 3) here.
Read my Letter to the Editor, published April 11, 2009, here.
You’ll notice many of these articles on domestic violence refer to the abuser/killer as a nice guy. One reason is that they often interview friends and family of his. Many batterers do provide a likeable, even charming, exterior to their colleagues and neighbors. Another reason is, if he committed murder-suicide, many people don’t like to speak ill of the dead. But, this kind of reporting often fails to paint an accurate picture of the individuals’ behavior in the house, where they may have acted completely different from the way they acted out in the community. Reporters should dig a little deeper to find out if there was a pattern of abuse in the couple’s marriage or live-in situation. Murder, as much as they’d like us to believe, is not something that occurs out of the blue. While researchers find no previous use of violence in some femicides (like the Stacy Peterson case), sometimes it just takes some investigation to uncover it - and it’s up to the media to take this step.
The story mentions that the wife “nagged” for two years. Well, how did the husband act? Was he controlling or jealous, which is the case in many domestic violence accounts? Why is her negative behavior listed but not his negative behavior?
A recent New York Times article did the same thing. It said more about the wife “complaining” and being “uncooperative” than it did about her husband (a judge) that hit her. Why are negative or harsh terms used for the victim but not the perpetrator? Can you imagine a reporter writing about an unknown perpetrator on the street attacking an elderly man and then referring to the elderly man as grumpy or mean? Wouldn’t it sound as if he deserved to be attacked by that stranger? Why, that perp did society a favor by choosing him as a victim! Really!
The New York Times article also included the lawyer’s comments, “It’s a personal and private matter and it was appropriately dismissed and sealed. ” Ouch! Domestic violence advocates have been trying for decades to educate us that this is a societal problem rather than a “private matter.” Justice does not stop at your door mat. You are not free to use illegal drugs or run a brothel from your home – nor can you assault someone in there and get away with it.
Hmmm, why did the guy have a gun? Did he have a prior history of domestic violence? Was there a restraining order? Was there a history of mental illness (diagnosed or not), anger management problems, issues in his other relationships (past or present)? All too other, batterers have access to guns. Police officers in my town – some who will be called upon in domestic violence cases – have their own charges of DV and yet they still have their jobs and their guns.
As a lesson from this article, we should demand:
1) to know the real cause of domestic violence (hint: it’s not the other person’s behavior)
2) to understand that domestic violence doesn’t often come out of the blue (“snapping” is not a cause of DV either)
3) to see the victim treated with respect and dignity
4) to hear from domestic violence experts
5) to learn where to go for help