We offer this guide to support media professionals in reporting on domestic violence in a way that is responsible to survivors and informative to the public. Domestic violence is a complex issue that can be challenging to discuss, and the media plays an important role in shaping the public’s understanding of it. Here are some ways that you can help us to educate others about the topic:
1. Contextualize incidents of domestic violence
Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior that a person uses to have power and control over their partner. We usually only hear about extreme incidents of violence, but it’s important to know that these are never isolated acts: there is going to be a history of other controlling behaviors that an abusive partner was utilizing. Abuse can take many forms including physical, sexual, emotional, mental, spiritual, and economic. It’s helpful to place the incident you are covering within the broader context of an abusive relationship.
2. Educate the public that domestic violence is a pervasive, social issue
It can be difficult to understand why people cause immense harm to others, but domestic violence isn’t inevitable: abusive partners make the choice to use abusive behaviors for purposes of control. Tying the abuse to drugs, alcohol, anger, or mental illness reinforces incorrect assumptions about the root cause of domestic violence.
3. Focus on the abusive behavior to avoid victim-blaming
An important message to send in any domestic violence story is that responsibility for abuse lies with the abusive partner and not the victim/survivor. By focusing on the abusive behavior, you are normalizing language of accountability for actions. Abusive partners are responsible for their behavior, and abuse is always a choice.
Questions may arise about why the victim remained in an abusive relationship, and spending any time spotlighting this question shifts the responsibility away from the abusive partner. You can flip the script by mentioning a variety of obstacles that may have made it challenging, if not impossible, for a victim/survivor to leave the relationship. Regardless of those reasons, you must make it clear that none of the victim’s actions justify the abuse they experienced.
4. Bring in local experts
Often when there is a high-profile domestic violence case, neighbors or coworkers are interviewed and may give statements such as “They were such a happy couple” or “I can’t believe he did this; he was so nice to everyone.” The truth is that many associates may not be fully aware of the complexities of the relationship, and may actually contribute to public misunderstandings of domestic violence as a one-off incident when someone just “snaps.”
Instead, it is highly recommended to seek quotes and comments from experts in the field of domestic violence. HSCADV and local domestic violence advocates can provide a wealth of information about domestic violence to add context to your story, and would gladly work with you to ensure you have accurate information about the subject.
Additionally, your coverage can be an opportunity to provide referral information to those who need it. Visit hscadv.org/find-help/ to find a domestic violence program that serves your coverage area.
HSCADV recommends the following resources to continue learning more about how journalists can improve their reporting of domestic violence cases:
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