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Domestic Violence in the Press

July 12, 2010

Sometimes, domestic violence gets a lot of press. The recent case of Yeardley Love and last year’s coverage of Chris Brown’s attack against his then girlfriend Rihanna  might leave you to think that the press has a zero tolerance policy for domestic violence. Just this week we heard about a World Cup Brazilian soccer star suspected of murdering his pregnant girlfriend, Mel Gibson’s excuse for hitting the mother of his youngest child (she f**king deserved it), and last week the UK was gripped by a manhunt for Raoul Moat, a nightclub bouncer who shot his ex-girlfriend (the mother of his daughter), her new partner and a police officer, fatally wounding the latter two. (The manhunt ended with a police stand-off in which Moat took his own life. His ex-girlfriend remains in critical condition.)

So what if I told you that we need to change press coverage of domestic violence? People Magazine, a publication circulated on a grander scale than this little blog could ever imagine, chose to run the Yeardley Love story with the headline “Could Her Death Have Been Prevented?” It should have said “This Will Never Happen Again”, or, better yet, “Ways to Help Victims of Domestic Violence Escape and Find Help.” If the problem is so invasive, can we not agree that help should be abundantly available?

Here are a few things to easily change:

1) Call a spade a spade- When one person assaults or berates another, both are not “involved in a domestic dispute”. One person attacked another. The connecting thread of all domestic violence relationships is an extreme imbalance of power and control; our language should reflect that.

2) Stop violence, don’t sensationalize it- A newspaper article should not read like a diary entry: the reporter’s personal opinions should not be reflected in her/his work. However, is it not safe to say that no one should tolerate domestic violence, and therefore expressing a strong condemnation of DV is not subjective but rather objective? If we must read the traumatizing descriptions of victims’ wounds, can that description not include a narrative stridently condemning the violence that caused those wounds?

3) Educate your readers- Statistics abound about the prevalence of domestic violence, yet one of the most destructive forces of DV, and an oft cited reasons for staying in an abusive relationship, is the shame and isolation felt by victims. Over-saturation of information is possible. (How many people can name the most recent Bachelor?) Let’s disseminate life-saving information at this rate and see how powerful the press can really be.

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