The media is “failing” women killed by their partners and must do a better job in reporting cases of domestic violence, campaigners have warned.
Families of domestic homicide victims are among a coalition of campaigners and academics urging the Independent Press Standards Organisation to accept proposed guidelines setting out how cases of domestic violence should be reported.
Campaigners say “bad reporting” compromises the dignity of the deceased woman, perpetuates victim-blaming and can have “traumatic impacts” on surviving relatives.
Around two women are killed every week by men, according to figures from the latest femicide report by domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid.
It is hoped that reporting guidelines similar to Samaritans rules used when writing about suicides will help combat “misleading media narratives”, amid concerns that media coverage often lacks sensitivity or context.
Level Up, a feminist campaign group, have today launched a petition and developed a five-point guideline on better reporting on domestic violence, following consultation with victims’ families and experts.
These guidelines include accountability, accuracy, dignity, equality and images.
Accountability: Place responsibility solely on the killer, which means avoiding speculative “reasons” or “triggers”, or describing the murder as an uncharacteristic event. Homicides are usually underpinned by a longstanding sense of ownership, coercive control and possessive behaviours: they are not a random event.
Accuracy: Name the crime as domestic violence, instead of “tragedy” or “horror”, and include the National Domestic Violence Helpline at the end of the article: 0808 2000 247.
Dignity: Avoid sensationalising language, invasive or graphic details that compromise the dignity of the dead woman or her surviving family members.
Equality: Avoid insensitive or trivialising language or images.
Images: Avoid using stock images that reinforce the myth that it’s only a physical crime.
Janey Starling, campaign manager for Level Up, said “Every bad article on a domestic violence death is a missed opportunity to help prevent further deaths.
“It is vital that domestic violence deaths are treated with the same sensitivity and consideration as other deaths like suicide, which is now reported on carefully due to comprehensive guidance and resources provided by Samaritans.
“Research shows that reports of domestic homicides that reinforce a narrative of romantic “love” can lead to lighter sentencing in court. In reality, homicides are driven by control and possession, and this must be accurately reflected in reporting.”
Luke and Ryan Hart lost their mother Claire and sister Charlotte in 2016 after their father shot them in a car park in Spalding, Lancashire.
The deaths followed years of sustained emotional abuse and coercive control by the perpetrator.
The brothers, who have dedicated much of their time since to raising awareness of domestic abuse and homicide, joined the campaign to point out that such deaths are not “isolated incidents”, but often the culmination of a period of sustained abuse.
We need sensitive, constructive and dignified reporting which places responsibility with the perpetrator, and does not blame a woman, or her ‘culture’ or ‘traditions’ for her own murder Leah Cowan
“Considering that up to 75% of the women murdered are killed after they leave, these women were demonstrably hunted down. These men do not kill in a ‘flash of anger’,” they said.
“Men kill because they believe they can, because they feel entitled that their self-pity is worth more than the lives of others. They are reinforced in these beliefs by irresponsible reporting.
“The men that kill aren’t anomalous monsters, it happens far too frequently for that to be the case. Gender violence is a common pattern in our society, with one in four women experiencing domestic abuse in their lifetime.”
Julia Pemberton and her teenage son were murdered at their Berkshire home by her estranged husband Alan in 2003 after a series of threats.
Joining the campaign, her brother, Frank Mullane, said: “The trauma domestic homicide inflicts on families is sometimes compounded by misleading media narratives.
“Although often accurately reporting the frenzied nature of many of these killings, they frequently ignore or underplay the long lead up of abuse of the victim and the element of detailed planning beforehand. The world then believes the homicide came out of the blue.”
Leah Cowan of Imkaan, a Black feminist organisation dedicated to addressing violence against Black and minority women and girls, said: ”The way that some of the media currently reports on domestic homicide simply contributes to the thick web of signals and messages that tell women they are responsible for the violence they are subjected to, and that if they come forward they will not be believed. This must end.
“We need sensitive, constructive and dignified reporting which places responsibility with the perpetrator, and does not blame a woman, or her ‘culture’ or ‘traditions’ for her own murder. Good reporting on this issue sends a message to women currently experiencing abuse that it is not their fault, and that we believe them.
“We need a seismic change in societal attitudes around violence against women, and helping the media industry to understand the key role they play in this transformation is a crucial element in this shift.”
A spokeswoman for IPSO told HuffPost UK: “We welcome initiatives by groups concerned about the reporting of particular issues.
“We have recently worked with a number of organisations in this field, and will shortly be publishing guidance for journalists and editors on the reporting of sexual offences.
“We would be delighted to meet with Level Up to discuss this further.”
- Refuge- Domestic violence help for women and children - 0808 2000 247
- Visit Women’s Aid- support for abused women and children – or call the National Domestic Violence Helpline, run by Women’s Aid and Refuge, on 0808 2000 247
- Broken Rainbow- The LGBT domestic violence charity - 0845 2 60 55 60
- Men’s Advice Linefor advice and support for men experiencing domestic violence and abuse - 0808 801 0327