Somebody shared this article with me recently. How depressing! You mean, we’ve been trying to change domestic violence reporting – “nice guy kills wife, kids…”- since 1994?! Good grief!
The media has not traditionally been a good source of information on family violence.
Crimes were not covered, and victims were often blamed. This reflected societal attitudes to domestic violence and its treatment in the courts.
In a recent study, news articles on men who killed their wives and then commit suicide were examined. The general conclusion is that coverage has improved, but still tends to mystify the problem.
The study used articles from the Calgary Herald from 2008 using the term ‘murder-suicide.’ Alberta has the highest rate of spousal homicide-suicide in Canada. This was compared to a second period a decade earlier to see if coverage had changed.
Research on domestic homicide often points out how news articles are framed to blame the victim or excuse the offender.
Direct tactics involve using negative language to describe the victim, criticizing her actions such as her not reporting past incidences, or mentioning ‘consorting’ with other men as contributing to her murder.
Indirect tactics include using sympathetic language to describe the perpetrator, and emphasizing mental, physical, emotional and financial problems which might excuse his actions.
In 2008 there were two main cases covered extensively.
One described the perpetrator as a loving family man who doted on his wife and young daughters but heard voices in his head and believed he was possessed by the devil.
The second involved a woman who had restraining orders due to a troubled relationship. She had tried to break it off but the period after the woman leaves is usually the most dangerous.
She was said to be a caring, loving woman who never gave an indication of problems at home. However the man lost jobs, drank frequently, made threats and was physically violent.
Authorities said it was a domestic dispute that went terribly wrong.
In these stories the explanation is inexplicable: the man was loving and the couple seemed happy. Sometimes there were warning signs: the man had difficulties, or the couple had a history of conflict. And there was always an attempt to find an excuse: mental disorder, alcoholism or unemployment.
In both cases cognitive biases were used. Criticizing the victim, for example, by not calling the police is a ‘just-world bias,’ that good people do the right thing, and bad things happen to bad (incompetent) people.
On the other hand, to focus on the (now) obvious warning signs, is ‘hindsight bias.’ Both are ways of blaming in order to make ourselves feel safe.
The decade-old articles were short, either briefs or about 200 words. Police are the usual source, and the explanations include: domestic problems, depressed state, no concrete motive and nobody knows.
In comparison, the lack of coverage, the paucity of detail, the reliance on official sources and the absence of a context for explanation is striking. This was normal news coverage of domestic violence in the 1980s, a virtual silence compared to coverage 20 years later where there is an increased use of advocates as sources and a larger discussion of context.
The incidence of domestic violence has decreased over time in society, at the same time as newspaper articles about intimate partner violence have increased. The public is receiving more information about fewer cases, although there is still a tendency to mystify the nature of domestic violence.
In response, some researchers have worked to improve journalistic coverage. For example, the Rhode Island Coalition against Domestic Violence worked with reporters to develop a best practices handbook on news coverage of domestic violence murders.
In comparing print coverage of domestic violence murders before and after, they found an increased tendency to label the murder of intimates as domestic violence, and more use of advocates as sources.
As a result, murders which had previously been framed as unpredictable, private tragedies by police, were more likely to be framed as social problems which required public intervention.
This example of action research shows the importance of naming interpretations and the possibility of changing them.
Chris McCormick teaches criminology and media studies at St. Thomas University and his column appears every second Thursday.
Also, see this letter to the editor noting how the sheriff quoted in an article blames the victim –
Blame for male violence misdirected
We work in prevention of gender-based violence and sexual assault. We are authors, professors, public speakers, advocates and community activists. We are appalled and concerned by the statements made by Sheriff’s Lt. Dan Rosenberg and reported by Larry Altman and Andrea Woodhouse in the Daily Breeze (“Couple found dead in MB are identified,” Jan. 12).
The conjecture is that a murder-suicide took place, possibly fueled by interpersonal issues between a girlfriend and boyfriend. About this tragic case, the story says:
“Rosenberg said (California State University, Long Beach student Danielle) Hagbery’s death should serve as a warning to other young women that they need to look out for themselves – such as not going to the boyfriend’s home – when a relationship goes sour. `This is one more tragic end of a dating relationship where these young women should be aware of it,’ Rosenberg said. `Ladies need to be vigilant when things go sideways with boyfriends.”‘
Badly informed comments such as this perpetuate a serious problem: Blaming the victim for her own death. Presuming it’s true that boyfriend Michael Nolin killed Hagbery before turning a gun on himself, the warning must not be directed toward victims. Ladies don’t need to be vigilant. Murderers need to not kill. If this was “one more tragic end of a dating relationship,” men need to be aware of their own potential for violence. Prevention is the real solution.
There are plenty of community-based resources and educational materials on the subject of preventing male violence against women. Please do not hesitate to be in touch if you would like to avail yourself to our services and resources.
– Shira Tarrant, Professor, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department, CSU Long Beach
Editor’s note: This letter was also signed by CSU Long Beach professors, lecturers and staff including Courtney Ahrens, Laura Bellamy, Jeane Relleve Caveness, Lynne Coenen, Cindy Donham, Claire Garrido-Ortega, Marc D. Rich, Cpl. Ami Rzasa, Dr. Gina Golden Tangalakis and Mary Kay Will. Also signing were Veronica I. Arreola of the University of Illinois, Chicago; author and speaker Ben Atherton-Zeman; Audrey Bilger of Claremont McKenna College; community members Abby Bradecich, Lana Haddad, Diana Hayashino, Linda Pena, Justine Schneeweis and Barbara Sinclair; community volunteer Craig Coenen; writer, educator and advocate Joan Dawson; Caroline Heldman of Occidental College; Long Beach community advocates Ashleigh Klein and Marea Perez; Dr. Kathie Mathis of Mathis & Associates; Jennifer L. Pozner, executive director of Women In Media & News; Chad Sniffen of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault; Jessica Stites of Ms. Magazine; and domestic violence advocate Sharon Wie.
Okay, on Feb. 6 I blogged about domestic homicides that target females. Now, in the past week, we’ve come across three cases that involved boys. There is research that finds violent men seek custody of boys more often than girls. (When I find it, I’ll post it.)
Also, over at Dastardly Dads, they’ve posted a summary of the Dads that have had visitation or custody and have killed their kids **this year alone.***
In the “Where is the outrage” department, we have a recent case of a woman who alleged abuse to THREE different judges – and not one of them believed her. Result? A nine-month-old baby is dead.
This woman was denied a restraining order, called a liar in court and suffered the loss of her infant (and ex-husband). All because of the propaganda machine (thanks to the MRAs and FR guys) that say women make false allegations of domestic violence to manipulate the court. Apparently, the courts would prefer to save the man’s good name (you know, because the MRAs claim that restraining orders taint men’s reputations) than protect the woman and child from harm – dah! Why do that?
THERE SHOULD BE OUTRAGE
VICTORVILLE • A woman whose ex-boyfriend murdered their infant son and then killed himself had sought a restraining order from two San Bernardino County judges only days before the murder-suicide, according to court records (click here to view records) obtained by the Daily Press.
Katie Tagle petitioned two San Bernardino County court judges for a restraining order only days before her former boyfriend, Stephen Garcia, killed himself and their 9-month-old son, Wyatt. Both requests were denied — in spite of Tagle telling a local judge that Garcia had threatened to kill their son.
“My suspicion is you’re lying,” Judge Robert Lemkau said, according to transcripts from a Jan. 21 hearing in Victorville court, “but I’m keeping the custody orders in full force and effect.”
Wyatt was then turned over to Garcia that day. Both Garcia and the child were found dead 10 days later on a Twin Peaks dirt road, after Garcia took Wyatt during a court-ordered visitation.
“Having that restraining order really could’ve helped this situation and possibly may have swayed a judge to grant supervised visitations,” said Anita Gomez, case manager for A Better Way Domestic Violence Shelter.
Lemkau, who couldn’t be reached for comment, denied to make permanent a temporary restraining order signed by another judge — who at first denied Tagle’s original restraining order request.
Family members said when Tagle went in front of Judge David Mazurek in a Joshua Tree courtroom on Jan. 12, Mazurek denied the permanent restraining order despite the 23-year-old reporting Garcia had recently been abusive to her.
And here’s the transcript of the case — it’s awful!! Read the clear bias where he calls her a liar, refers to false allegations (in order to interrupt the father’s access to the child) and how he interrupts her when she tries to present her evidence:
Great analysis of domestic violence homicides in MD by Amanda Hess –
This takes the cake in the “nice guy kills family” genre. He wasn’t just a nice guy, he was a great one (don’t let the headline fool you). I wrote a letter to the editor of the Washington Post, if it doesn’t get printed, I”ll post it here later.
What is it about domestic violence reporting (or other mass killings) that makes writers find out all the positive characteristics of the perp? Some have said it is because most reporters are white males – when they write about crimes committed by other white males they have more sympathy and group affinity. Certainly, I have not seen the same sympathy written about crimes when they are committed by people of color or when the crimes involves shootings by strangers. When a guy takes his spouse’s or children’s lives, their is a patriarchal-based philosophy that those people belonged to the man – possessions – so that, in some sense, he had a right to take their lives. It is quite a different reaction from when a stranger kills a person or a family. Think about it – and notice the difference in writing when reading about these different types of crimes.
Has the pendulum swung too far away from our patriarchal roots? That’s the opinion of some.
Here’s Barbara Kay, up in Canada, talking about the so-called gender wars:
I contacted her by email. For one who riles against ideology, her beliefs are are rooted in it. She’d rather believe 200 studies (self report, with limitations) on mutual domestic violence paint a better overall picture than the 1000s of studies that exist on domestic violence that find men are more often batterers (women use common couple violence, but they are not likely to be batterers who use physical violence, coercion and threats).
Here was the letter to the editor I wrote:
It would be pointless to call those who advocate against child abuse “adult-bashers.” And it would be ridiculous to call animal rights activists “people haters” and make them state that “not all people abuse animals.” So too would it be ludicrous to call women’s rights advocates “male bashers” or “man-haters”, yet it happens, as Barbara Kay reminds us in “The End of the Gender Wars.” If the so-called gender wars are to truly end, men would provide “equal parenting” at birth, not at divorce. And, together with women, men would denounce domestic violence – not refer to it as an “industry” or say that it punishes “innocent men” or claim that women are liars (because they are against stereotypes as much as we are). They would recognize that domestic violence has no place in a healthy family unit. They would stop attacking the field of domestic violence and start understanding abuse and working towards ending it – because abuse cannot exist in a society that values women, men, children and family units of all shapes and sizes. The gender war has only begun to heat up with the recent attacks on domestic violence and family court issues. Destructive rather than constructive methods like these will continue to fuel it for years to come. Those who call an end to war must first put down their weapons.
And here’s a letter that got printed – I didn’t write it:
Here’s another article about the pendulum swinging too far towards feminism (isn’t that scary – I mean, wouldn’t it be just horrible if we had an equal society?!):
I don’t recall feminists ever asking for an apology or for half the population to feel guilty. Feminists wanted equality, respect, independence, credit for hard work, etc. We are not responsible for bias towards men who take care of children – if anything feminists have helped create this atmosphere where men are encouraged to take on childcare and household responsiblities.
In one of his comments, he says the “pendulum has swung too far.” Really? We still have: unfair pay and promotion, unbalanced childcare and household responsibilities, sexual harassment, sexual trafficking, rape, impunity for celebrities & athletes, domestic violence, battered women losing custody, being the target of serial killers, whorification in the media, hypersexualization of women and young girls, porn culture that may use violence/drugs/minors, etc. etc. etc. THIS IS EQUALITY?! This is the pendulum swinging too far? You gotta be kidding me.
And here’s another one – this article is really more about including young men in the feminist movement – but it annoys me because it sounds like feminists should overlook sexist jokes and change OUR approach because it’s humorless and unattractive. Really? Does one have to laugh at misogyny in order to make feminism attractive to young people? Like, hey, I know you’re sensible enough to realize the objectification of women in that magazine – and hey isn’t it just great you support the publication? Isn’t it terrific we have billions going into porn? It’s not like that money could be going to better use, right? I don’t know, I don’t get it. (and, for the record, I’m not necessarily against porn, I just wish like all things it was created for both women and men in mind).
Domestic violence is highlighted in the current issue of Journal of Child Custody:
The Leadership Council has this posted, along with the abstracts.
Please remind the media to write about domestic violence and custody – the family courts are often ‘mandating’ abuse (like Cassandra’s case, see below) – it’s a topic that needs to be written about widely.
Here are 3 cases of domestic violence where the system failed the victims. As a result, five people in total died. In Cassandra’s case, she was killed at the age of 24 in front of her mother and sons. She feared her ex-husband, but nobody seemed to take that seriously. She followed court orders – to her peril. When she returned to Britain, her ex stabbed her to death.
The other case involves 32-year-old Brandy Schneider. Her batterer had a great lawyer (no surprise there, batterers often have more resources and can afford better legal representation). He also had SUPERVISED VISITATION – despite his prior convictions of battering and sexual assault. It’s rare that parental rights are terminated – perhaps it’s time to review this policy.
This third case involved a woman who separated from her partner – separation is the most dangerous time for a woman – and survived his attack. Their daughter, only 4 years old, did not.
Notice that the women in these cases all WANTED their partners to have access to the children. This is consistent with research findings – the majority of women want their ex-husbands or partners, even if they were abusive, to have contact with their children.
Note too how this last article ends – kudos to the Mirror for providing this bit of info from a professor –
BY PROF JACK LEvIN
Expert on family annihilators
TYPICALLY the motive in a family annihilation is revenge.
It is normally preceded by a nasty separation, divorce or child custody battle and the primary target is almost always the wife who is blamed by the man for all his miseries.
He decides to get even by killing everything associated with her and everything she loves.
There are also cases where a man sees a murder-suicide as altruism. He may have lost his job or be in debt and cannot provide for his family. He takes their lives before his life believing they are better off dead.
Most cases develop over years, not days, but there is usually a catalyst – a negative, life-changing event. It takes several factors working together.
Whenever I read about the reason for the murders, I am amazed that it’s women that are stereotyped as vengeful. Mind you, I am against all stereotypes so it’s not like I want men to be stereotyped as vengeful. It’s just that the Men’s Rights and Fathers Rights activists are always talking about false allegations (women lie), female violence/vengeous/malicousness, women witholding access, etc. – and then when I read these articles and domestic violence research, I find the opposite – I find that many women follow court orders, provide accusations in good faith, want violent partners to have contact, etc. It’s not a matter of he said – she said, this ridiculous refrain belittles a very serious situation – we must get to the truth of the matter and we must protect the lives of women, men and children in domestic violence – starting with relying on fear as an indicator of homicide.
Here’s a great article by Corey Pein in the Santa Fe Reporter. I’ve often asked, is she a liar or is he a denier? The stereoptype that women lie for malicious reasons is deeply embedded in our society (and certainly the Fathers Rights groups capitalize on this). How many know that denial is the trademark of an abuser? Why do we minimize a couple’s conflict into a “he said/she said” when the repurcussions of the conflict can end in permanent injury or even death?
Many in the Fathers Rights groups mimic abusers – they minimize, rationalize or call domestic violence mutual. They use research that is based on self report to call attention to female-initiated violence. The data they use does not capture the context of abuse (was it self defense, for example) nor does it capture severe abuse, violence during separation (the highest point of danger for women), or homicide. Females do use what’s called Common Couple Violence – throwing things, hitting, slapping. Females, however, are far more likely to be seriously injured or killed by their partner than males are.
The Fathers Rights groups also claim women are more likely to abuse their children. This data, actually, is based on households – including those led by single mothers. When males and females are compared equally, males are more likely to commit child abuse – and again, it is more severe and fatal. Men are more likely to kill babies in shaken baby syndrome. They are also overwhelmingly the ones to commit child sexual abuse. I do not deny women abuse children – I simply believe facts should be used – not propaganda like that coming from the angry men that make up the Fathers Rights groups. It’s not constructive.
They also attack the Violence Against Women Act. Funny, because VAWA’s biggest success is probably that the rate of women killing men has gone down drastically. Why? Because these women, many of whom were abused, can go to a shelter rather than kill their abuser. They also want to limit restraining orders and punish women for false allegations (which means not producing enough witnesses or evidence). They’ve sued shelters and stopped funding for pro-bono legal help for women.
It’s clear what their agenda is: remove protection for women and children. Until they acknowledge the seriousness of domestic violence, we will be at a stalemate. They will be angrily chipping away at safety measures for women and children. We will be left, with the few resources we do have, to clutching the few measures we do have that protect us from domestic harm. Domestic violence has only been recognized publicly for 4 decades – laws, especially regarding marital rape, are still evolving. At its infancy, it’s being attacked.
Man up by Corey Pein