Monday, 3 December 2012

How does the media report murders of women?

Hot on the heels of the Daily Mail re-branding stalking as romance, the BBC report today that tributes are being paid to a man who shot his wife before killing himself. 

I honestly cannot think of another situation where tributes would be paid to a man who committed a violent crime.

The police describe how the man, who was the leader of the council, shot his wife and then himself. But this doesn’t seem to be the news story. The news story instead is about the tributes made by councillors, colleagues and neighbours to the man who:

typified what's good about the town and the district of North Norfolk.”

It’s a story about how the flag on the council building is flying at half mast, how despite ‘being from different parties’ he was ‘always very good to deal with’, how he was a ‘good public servant’ who was ‘respected across the political spectrum’. No-where is it really mentioned that by shooting his wife, this pillar of the community murdered a woman

Because that is what just happened. There's nothing in the article to suggest suicide pact or complicity. He shot his wife. I don’t know why, I don’t care why, I don’t know if there was a history of domestic abuse. What we do know is he shot his wife before killing himself.

It seems to me that it’s only in the case of domestic abuse when the news coverage bends over backwards to talk about the perpetrator as really a good person. It seems that it’s only when crimes are committed against women does the media try to mitigate it by assuring us that – apart from in his relations to his wife – the man with the gun was a ‘good guy’. I think it happens because it’s simply too terrifying to face the fact that twice a week, men murder a current or ex partner. That at least two men a week are killing women. 

It reminds me of the man who killed his wife and only got eighteen months because his actions were ‘out of character’ and he led a ‘respectable and successful life’. The deaths of the women became subordinate to the story of the man. And make no mistake, it's this kind of reporting, that diminishes blame for a violent crime against women, that then has an impact on juries finding violent men guilty, on judges handing out sentences to men who kill their wives. This has a real impact. Every time a man is violent to a woman, and the media reports it as a crime of passion, of jealousy, or a retaliation because 'she took his kids' or 'she left him', then that media is victim blaming, and it's a victim blaming culture that means we have a 6.5% conviction rate for rape, for example. The way the media reports violence against women matters. It has an impact on all of us women. 

Today’s story is a tragic one. As before with the stalker, any death is awful and of course those who knew him are devastated. But it’s a tragedy that involves her death as well, and what this reporting does is just focus on how he was a "good guy". Her death and her life just does not seem to be considered in this article at all. 

On the Yahoo report of the story one of the commenters says:

Probably another domestic incident gone wrong.”

It’s a telling comment. It’s not murder, it’s a domestic incident gone wrong. That’s how this story can so easily be re-framed, to be one about how tributes are being paid to a man who shot his wife and then killed himself. It’s just another example of how our culture refuses to acknowledge what violence against women and girls looks like. 

This year, according to the OneinFour Twitter feed, 104 have lost their lives as a result of gender based violence. 

If you can, please make a donation to WomensAid and Refuge, so no more women lose their lives to men. 

Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247


e.f. bartlam said...

Seriously weird. There was a very high-profile wife murder/suicide over here this weekend.

A professional football player for the Kansas City Chiefs murdered his wife and then drove to the stadium and shot himself, evidently, in front of the coach and general manager.

I don't watch the pro-game so I don't know how it was handled but, I'm certain there will be talk of concussions and steroids.

A woman my wife used to work with from a different office was gunned down at her desk by her husband. He then killed himself or the cops got him. I can assure you there was no memorial for that dirt bag.

I can understand newspapers doing what they do...adding intrigue to a story to sell papers. "He was a quiet family man, salt of the Earth, blah blah and blah. What I can't understand is people on the ground engaging in this sort of thing. Flags lowered my ass. Outrageous.

kellie-jay Keen said...

Perhaps we can ask these guys to kill someone else's wife or better still someone's son, in his prime. Then we may just label them murders, we may even have terrible things said about them.

In fact I would be interested to look at cases involving similar criminals and how differently the cases are reported whether they kill their wife or someone else.

The Goldfish said...

In a way, I understand why it was happening on the ground; you have a load of politicians at the council, who are just stunned by the situation, coming up with vague and diplomatic sentiments because they don't quite know how else to respond and the guy did seem like an okay person when they had to deal with him. I think it's far worse that the BBC should then repeat all these quotes about what a lovely man the murderer was, as if shooting your wife in the front garden (as she was trying to get away) could be a tragic accident or even a suicide pact.

If he had killed anyone else - shot his neighbour or a passing child - before taking his life, they wouldn't have printed this stuff. But somehow, a heterosexual relationship renders the murder almost like some kind of private indiscretion....

I've seen some of the coverage of the Jovan Belcher case on-line (the American footballer e.f refers to), and to my great relief, there were folks referring to what he did as what it is - the most extreme form of domestic violence.

In the end, I put in a complaint to BBC News about the article, which hilariously, is now next to a sidebar with the headline "Five ways... the media is accused of portraying women." (links to this)

Matarij said...

This is infuriating, but as you point out, sadly common. The reason that the press cover stories like this in the way that they do is because the men who write the stories are steeped in a culture of sexism where women are seen as secondary. Therefore, the writers instinctively sympathise with the bloke, because obviously his wife deserved what happened - perhaps she was getting uppity - maybe 'nagging', objecting to domestic violence, wanting her own life etc etc - and most men see this kind of protest against their privilege as completely unacceptable. And so they regard each other as good blokes within the approved masculine framework, and how they treat their female partners is nothing to do with this, in fact is it irrelevant. As long as they are all performing masculinity to an acceptable standard, who they really are within the important spheres of how they relate to 'not-men' (i.e women and children) is not part of the equation. Relating successfully to not-men does not count within this masculine identity. And so we have another murdered woman who is a bit player to the main event.

e.f. bartlam said...

Thought you might like to know that yesterday a radio program framed the story, I mentioned, as the murder of Kassandra Perkins...not as the freak out of a professional football player.

What you need is for one of these fella's to shoot the family dog. That really gets 'em bent over here.

Nobody love the game of (American) football more than me but, it drives me berserk that there are players that get away with murder, rape, killing while driving drunk but, someone who's involved in dog fighting must be banished.

danfactor said...

Sian you are taking one report and shaping the entire media's reporting of violence against women around it.
The media always report violence against women as violence. Men who murder women are (rightly) held up as murderers and criminals.

I would argue that society's attitude towards women who are violent to men is more problematic. Ie if a woman killed her unfaithful husband plenty of people would say he deserved it.

sian and crooked rib said...

But they're not. They're held up as men committing crimes of passion, or their wives are framed as nagging, or unfaithful or bitches who leave.

The very fact that this man was called a pillar of the community, and the 18-month man was praised as being repsectable and successful, or headlines STILL refer to Ched Evans as 'soccer ace' show this.

I don't think a woman killing a man would evoke pity either although i agree that there is not enough proper, intelligent and sympathetic reporting of domestic abuse against men.

Michael James Kerrigan said...

The NFL player case reminds me of the Chris Benoit double-murder suicide from 2007. After killing his wife and son, he went on to kill himself. There were tributes aired on WWE programming until the details of what had happened emerged, and following this, there was no further mention of him on WWE programming ever again, his image was expunged from history, no footage of his work ever shown again.

Despite how well-loved he was, and despite his mental condition leading to the crimes, he was still a murderer. And he was treated as such, though some people still (bafflingly and disappointly) believe that his work should be recognised in a Hall of Fame.

The NFL paid tribute to Belcher knowing full well that he had murdered Kasandra Perkins. The WWE erased a murderer from history upon learning the details.