Covering domestic violence in the media

This is just a snippet from one of the resources in the previous post:

Source: Covering Crime and Justice Chapter 12 Covering Domestic Violence

In 1999, the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence published a handbook for journalists, in hopes of helping them cover the issue and survivors in a more meaningful way. The coalition spoke with a group of local women, Sisters Overcoming Abusive Relationships, about their perceptions of the media. As a result of those interviews, the organization came up with a list of recommendations from survivors. Among them:

  • Do ask questions which help readers understand domestic violence.
  • Do educate people about what they can do to stop domestic violence.
  • Do explain why batterers batter.
  • Do explain the dangers associated with leaving.
  • Do interview survivors and describe the process of becoming a survivor.
  • Do pay attention to language; word questions so they are not judgmental.
  • Do consider the safety of the person being interviewed.
  • Do strive to protect children’s privacy.
  • Do know the difference between news business and triggering trauma.
  • Do screen sources carefully and recognize the possible reluctance to speak ill of the dead.
  • Do correct errors.
  • Do respect the victim’s family.
  • Don’t focus on gore.
  • Don’t push for more revelations than survivors are ready to give.
  • Don’t assume certain cultures or classes are more violent than others.
  • Don’t treat survivors like victims.

The group also suggested some questions that could help during an interview:

  • What made it hard for you to leave? (An alternative to why did you stay, which puts the guilt on the victim of the abuse)
  • What advice would you give someone in a situation similar to the one you were in?
  • If a woman is not ready to leave, what should she do to get ready?
  • Whom did you call for help, where did you find help or did anyone try to help you?
  • Were the police involved in your case, and if not, could the police have helped you?

I’d add a few things to this:

  • Ask questions about custody arrangements – who had custody; what type of custody was it (sole; joint; unsupervised or supervised visitation; overnight visits) If the biological mother did not have custody, ask why.
  • Use kind words about victims; all too often there are more positive words for the perps than there are for the victims.
  • While advocates cringe at calling perps “nice guys;” please don’t refer to them as monsters either out of respect for the family members.

I’ll add more posts on this subject as much as I can.


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