Poor Domestic Violence Coverage May ‘Perpetuate’ Abuse

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Superficial or irresponsible reporting on domestic violence “re-victimizes” readers who have experienced it, and “may perpetuate cycles of abuse,” says the New York City Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence.

A recent study by the NYC Mayor’s Office analyzing 442 print articles in the New York media written between 2013 and 2016, concluded that press coverage of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)—and in particular of homicides linked to domestic violence cases─is often “inadequate” or infected by sensationalism, which in turn prevents serious public debate on the issue.

According to the study, the media covered 99 of the 126 intimate partner homicides recorded in New York during that period. But in many of the articles there was no mention of “domestic violence” or “intimate partner violence.”

At least 20% of them used sensational language or phrases, such as “bludgeoning,”“bloodbath,” “jilted gangbanger,” “slaughter,” and “butcher.”And some 16% used language that portrayed the victim or perpetrator as socially deviant or as an “other,” the report said.

The report called on the media to live up to its “critical role in shaping how society perceives the dynamics of IPV, and in sparking conversation around public responsibility and solutions to IPV.”

The study, written by Sandhya Kajeepeta, Kara Noesner and Edward Hill, did not examine broadcast or online coverage.

The authors acknowledged that coverage of the issue by New York media was “more comprehensive” in 2016, but they added their systematic review suggested that in general “media coverage of IPV incidents is often inadequate or problematic in its framing.”

Among the coverage issues highlighted in the study:

  •  Only ten of the 442 articles (2.3%) covering NYC intimate partner homicides from 2013-16 included an intimate partner violence advocate or expert as a source;
  • Only 15% of articles used terms such as “domestic violence,” “intimate partner violence,” or “domestic abuse,” and less than 8% of articles described the homicide as being intimate partner violence-related;
  • Less than 6% of articles framed the homicide within the broader social problem of intimate partner violence;
  • Only seven articles (1.6%) listed intimate partner violence resources for readers.

The study also found that homicides involving victims who were men and perpetrators who were women were covered differently than those that involved victims who were women and perpetrators who were men, respectively.

“Intimate partner homicides were typically reported as isolated incidents with no mention of ‘domestic violence’ or ‘intimate partner violence,’” the study said.

“Given the role of the media in driving conversation about present issues, more effective coverage includes framing each domestic violence or IPV incident within the larger social problem.”

But the authors said journalists should do more than just “name the problem:” they should “identify trends and patterns as well as gaps in the system’s response that should be addressed.”

And they recommended that domestic violence agencies and advocate groups support journalists by providing up-to-date information and statistics on domestic violence “at an aggregate level.”

Editor’s Note: For additional sources, reports and coverage on Intimate Partner Violence, see TCR’s resources page. 

Summary prepared by Stephen Handelman, executive editor of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.

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