Changing the Discourse: Reporting on Domestic Violence
In December, we saw the murder of Kasandra Perkins eclipsed by public mourning over her celebrity boyfriend. By and large, mainstream media coverage failed to recognize that her death was a result of domestic violence, or to take into account the statistics for black maternal homicide.
This month, as Congress pushes to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act—which it failed to authorize last year, it's especially important for us to consider the impact of our domestic violence coverage and how the way it's framed will affect our readers. Women between the ages of 16 and 24 currently experience the highest rate of intimate violence. Since many of us have experienced intimate violence in our lives or witnessed it among our peers, we're well-situated to drive this conversation in a better direction.
By contextualizing intimate trauma in larger systems of institutional violence, prioritizing the needs and safety of survivors, and educating ourselves about harmful mainstream media narratives, we can know what to avoid in our own work, and set new precedents by developing responsible news communities.
Here are three solid resources to do just that:
A project of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, the Dart Center provides tools, training opportunities and fellowships for journalists covering natural disasters, suicide, homicide, sexual violence and war. It’s a global network which includes the perspectives of mental health professionals, scholars, journalists and educators, all engaged a project to “nurture informed, innovative and ethical reporting on violence, conflict, and tragedy worldwide.”
The Center’s website offers a comprehensive range of resources and tip sheets, which help journalists educate themselves about how to respectfully interview torture victims, children dealing with trauma, and survivors of sexual and domestic violence. The Dart Center also recognizes the need for self-care and peer support resources for journalists writing about traumatic and triggering events, and advocates for increased awareness among news organizations about the effect news stories about violence can have on their writers and their publics.
Justice Solutions is a national nonprofit run “by crime victim professionals for crime victim professionals.” In 2009 they published a report titled “A Guide for Journalists Who Report on Crime and Crime Victims.” The guide discusses the role copy editors and editors who are distanced from a trauma-related story can have in sensationalizing it and re-traumatizing its subjects, the way news values often conflict with victims’ priorities and needs, the dangers of “pack journalism,” and how journalists can work with victim advocacy organizations to ensure the safety of their subjects and improve the quality of their work.
3. Berkeley Media Studies Group
The Berkeley Media Studies Group is part of the Public Health Institute in California. Many of their resources work to integrate a public health perspective into crime reporting, which views intimate violence and homicide as preventable problems with deep ties to larger structures of violence—poverty, racial discrimination and gender-based discrimination. Their resources and publications include "Reporting on Violence: A Handbook for Journalists" and "Framing 101."
Pauline Holdsworth is a reporter for Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter at @holdswo.