Today Women In Journalism proudly launched our new training for journalists, to encourage sensitive reporting on domestic abuse and domestic homicide, in partnership with Level Up, AVA, and Newsworks.
Would you like to be trained in reporting fatal domestic abuse with accuracy, sensitivity, and dignity?
If you are interested in taking part please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Today’s panel event featured a powerful discussion on how our reports as journalists shape the way gender-based violence is understood across society, and even how potential perpetrators look to the news for ‘validation’ ahead of committing violent acts.
Ryan Hart, whose mother and sister Claire, 50, and Charlotte Hart, 19, were murdered by his controlling and abusive father in 2016, joined the panel explaining how reading speculative media reports following the tragedy was like ‘seeing our own father’s voice in the national press’.
Ryan told today’s webinar: ‘What we saw [in the media] shocked us to the core. We saw articles that complimented our father as a nice guy who was always caring.
‘There was speculation that my mum was having an affair that drove my father to murder, that she was after his money and she had malicious intent.
‘We saw helplines for male suicide charities in the articles, no mention of domestic abuse.
‘The whole framing was that a tragedy had just happened and the tragedy was that a man had felt so sad that he took his own life.
‘Mum and Charlotte were invisible in that narrative, and for Luke and myself, just trying to get through those initial stages of trauma and almost seeing our own father’s voice in the national press… Mum and Charlotte were invisible in their lives at home and then in the media after the murders they were invisible again.
‘It made us really quite angry and shocked that a man can still be called a good man, even after murdering his wife and his daughter. It made us think, what does a man have to do to be a bad man? And it’s quite embarrassing as a man to see how low expectations are for us.’
Ryan added that his father had kept stacks of newspapers reporting domestic homicides in the house ahead of the murder, and believes he looked to them for ‘validation’ before committing the horrific act.
Every three days in the UK, a woman is murdered by a partner or ex-partner.
With every report, journalists have the potential to change the way domestic abuse is viewed.
Panellist Janey Starling, co-director of Level Up and author of the ‘Dignity for dead women: Media guidelines for reporting domestic violence deaths’ (Available to read here), said: ‘Every death that is reported is an opportunity to prevent more deaths.’
Janey provided the webinar with a helpful acronym to stick to when reporting domestic abuse or homicide, A.I.D.A.
ACCURACY: ‘Name the crime as domestic abuse and post the National Domestic Abuse helpline if you’ve just written a whole article about a controlling man who’s killed his wife, similar to the way the Samaritans helpline is always posted under a story about suicide.’
IMAGES: ‘Centre the victim, don’t romanticise by publishing photos of the victim and perpetrator on holiday together years ago. Don’t publish pictures of the murder weapon.’
DIGNITY: ‘Every woman’s children, if she has them, will be reading this coverage for years to come. It’s so important that it isn’t graphic, it isn’t sensationalized. It speaks to her as her character and not the brutal ways in which she was murdered.’
ACCOUNTABILITY: ‘Refrain from positioning the killing as something that happened following the woman’s actions. For example, woman murdered following row over dinner.’
Panellist Donna Covey, who is the chief executive of AVA (Against Violence and Abuse), shared that victims felt unwilling to report ‘date or partner rape’ due to media reports that ‘perpetrate victim blaming’.
Donna added: ‘Every day we still see headlines that repeat tired old stereotypes like the nagging wife.
‘Quite often the press can minimize the crime of domestic abuse by perpetuating the myth that abusers are good guys who momentarily lose control, despite the fact that we know that domestic abuse is a crime that is controlling it to its core. These men don’t lose control, they have total control that’s the name of their game.’
‘We’re particularly keen to build something that looks at local reporting, because women who’ve experienced abuse tell us is that quite often the local paper actually the most distressing because that’s what their family and friends and the people they pass in the street read. If that gives the wrong version of their story that in many ways is a harder thing for them to live with.’
Megha Mohan, BBC’s gender and identity correspondent globally, told the webinar: ‘No woman should be a footnote in her own death.
‘So when we’re reporting on stories about domestic violence, we don’t need to put a composite image of the perpetrator and the woman he killed right next to each other, that is incredibly jarring as a family member to see that.’
Geraldine McKelvie, Investigations Editor of the Sunday Mirror and Sunday People, said: ‘If you report things responsibly, and put them in the right context, you can help people to see that they might be endangered as well.
‘You can present something as – you can be a victim of domestic abuse, even if you’re not a victim of physical violence – and I think it is really important to recognize that coercive control. It can be just as bad as physical violence, and it can be just as much of a warning sign.
‘I’ve had a lot of emails from women that have said “we didn’t realize that we were victims” of either child sexual exploitation or domestic abuse until they’d read our story and put it in that context.’
Geraldine added: ‘I don’t think any of these murders come out of the blue.’
The webinar also featured Nicole Jacobs, Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, who said the media was ‘starting to catch up with the reality of the prevalence of this issue, and the level of seriousness it deserves.
Donna, CE of AVA, concluded: “[As a result of the training] I’d like to see stories about domestic abuse and domestic homicide actually move the debate on, to centre the woman or the survivor.
‘To give all of us a better understanding of the societal and structural reasons why this crime is so prevalent, but it’s constantly unreported and it’s constantly under prosecuted.”
Read Newsworks article HERE