Remember the post about the park ranger “snapping” and killing his wife and kids – Well, now the real truth comes out

In 2009, I wrote a letter to the editor that was published in the Washington Post – it had to do with a park ranger that “snapped” and killed his wife and two teenage stepchildren.

Park ranger ‘snapped’ before three slayings, court told

Here’s my letter to the editor: Words that matter, or not

In the April 3 Metro story “Park Ranger ‘Snapped’ Before Slayings of Family, Court Told,” about a man suspected of killing his wife and two stepchildren, the reporter took what I call the “Snap, Cackle, Pop” approach. In sum, the media report that the “nice guy” snaps because of his wife’s cackling or nagging, and so he pops her with a gun to put himself out of his misery.

This template for reporting on domestic violence must go.

Three to four women, and sometimes their children, die every day under circumstances related to domestic violence. Media accounts that excuse the behavior of the abuser or blame the victim for the crime are unacceptable. Often, there is a pattern of abuse, and it doesn’t involve the wife’s “nagging.” More often, the issues involve control or jealousy by the abuser.

Interviewing those close to the abuser will typically result in kind words because an abuser can provide a normal if not charming exterior. And, if the abuser commits suicide, rarely will you find a source willing to speak ill of the dead. Thus, we hear all these stories of “nice guys” who kill.

Most domestic homicides are not inexplicable. There is often a clear pattern that leads to murder.

The media owe it to the community to provide that information.

Well, two years later, we finally learn the truth (and of all sources it’s Fox News!!) :

Slain woman’s family breaks silence in Virginia triple murder

Ronquillo Dean also testified that his brother suffered from psychological issues and “he had, you know, some breakdowns” after becoming distraught when his first marriage ended and later learned Dean “didn’t go to work for a year.”

During this time, Dean was working as a ranger.

“They should have been concerned,” Clark said, referring to the Park Authority.

Clark says “Evidently it wasn’t a problem” for Dean to carry a gun “because he was never stopped.”

The family also deposed former Prince William County police officer and family acquaintance, Pete Paradis, who Dean requested come to the house the night of the murder. Paradis said Dean couldn’t get a job early on in his career with Prince William County police because of a “drug incident.”

During the questioning, the family’s attorney also produced a letter from Prince William County Schools to Dean, saying he had been “rejected” for a security job because of “an unsuccessful background investigation.”

Dean’s brother also said he was turned down by Fairfax County Police, but did not know the reason.

The ex-wife and the story that she told about his having violent dreams and wanting to hurt people and the fact that he could carry a gun and nobody cared? When you add all those things up and the loss of three wonderful people, it makes you angry,” Clark said getting emotional.

Dean told police he and his wife argued and he couldn’t take it, but Elizabeth Dean’s mother calls it all lies, that have tarnished her daughter’s short life.

“It was bad enough that he had killed them, but to make it appear as if he was forced to do it because he was angry?” she said.

New York Times: ‘Nice guys’ rape 11-year-old

Here’s a combination of the ‘nice guys’ rape scenario and victim-blaming. In this case, the victim is an11-year-old child. And the perpetrators are boys and men, ranging from middle-schoolers to 27 years in age. They raped the girl under the threat of a beating. In the article, the writer, James C. McKinley Jr., has quotes in the article that blames the victim (she wore make-up, dressed in clothing that made her look older; where was her mother) and praised the perps (they’ll have to live with this the rest of their lives)

Here are my thoughts:

1) Who else has reported on this? I haven’t searched it yet, but I’ve only heard about the NY Times piece. Why is it that this crime didn’t get national attention?

2) A link below has a response from the NY Times. They stand by this piece. They said the reporter used quotes – they weren’t his words. Aaaaah! So, if we can use quotes (choosing from, I assume, many quotes), we no longer are responsible!!! It’s as if those words jumped on the page themselves. I’ve encountered this problem before and I don’t buy it. The least the writer can do is interview an anti-rape advocate to counter the victim blaming.

3) When is society going to wake up? This should serve as the wake up call, but I doubt it will. A MIDDLE SCHOOLER was involved in this gang-rape. THE VICTIM WAS A CHILD.  Really? No public outrage? We should be ashamed to call ourselves humans. Having a conscience is what separates humans from animals — in this case, we are no different.

4) Men in their 20s raped this 11 year old. Hello!! This is pedophilia, folks. Why didn’t the NY Times deal with this? 

Here’s the NY Times piece: Gang rape of schoolgirl, and arrests, shakes Texas town

Here’s their reply, posted in The Cutline news blog  NY Times responds to backlash over reporting of an alleged child rape (alleged rape?! it was caught on tape, it was a rape)

The Times responded Wednesday evening to The Cutline: “Neighbors’ comments about the girl, which we reported in the story, seemed to reflect concern about what they saw as a lack of supervision that may have left her at risk,” said Danielle Rhoades Ha, a spokeswoman for the paper. “As for residents’ references to the accused having to ‘live with this for the rest of their lives,’ those are views we found in our reporting. They are not our reporter’s reactions, but the reactions of disbelief by townspeople over the news of a mass assault on a defenseless 11-year-old.”

Rhodes Ha also stressed that the paper stands by the controversial piece.

“We are very aware of and sensitive to the concerns that arise in reporting about sexual assault,” Rhoades Ha said. “This story is still developing and there is much to be learned about how something so horrific could have occurred.”

Read the NY Times letter to the editor

Mother Jones has quotes from the article & analysis: The NY Times’ rape-friendly reporting

Victim-blaming in the NY Times Cleveland gang rape article

The fword blog: Rape is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused  (Domestic violence victims are also the “accused” – they nag or cheat or otherwise do something to deserve the beating. They, like rape victims, are also accused of lying.)

Here’s Salon’s reaction: The NY Times’ sloppy, slanted child rape story 

Here’s a petition on Change.org Tell the NY Times to apologize for blaming a child for her gang rape

Domestic violence coverage

Coverage of domestic violence in the news

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 –

Daily Breeze

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.