It’s not just a homicide story
By Marivir R. Montebon
New York – Advocates for the protection of persons from domestic violence here have asked journalists to provide more context to their stories on domestic violence, and not just to report intimate partner crimes as mere homicide cases.
Tina Rosenberg, co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network encouraged journalism fellows of the John Jay College’s The Hidden Crime – Covering Domestic Violence “to put context into their stories to give it more value” during a panel discussion on trauma-informed reporting.
Rosenberg said that if a story is isolated, it creates a picture of falsity. She then challenged journalists to make their story more contextualized, expanded and comprehensive in order to be helpful.
About 26 journalists, including this writer, attended the two-day seminar on May 22 and 23, 2018 which was organized by the Center on Media, Crime, and Justice of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
City Commissioner Cecile Noel of Mayor de Blasio’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence for her part urged participants to help the public understand the complexity of the issue by highlighting the victim’s voice. Noel, appointed to office in 2015, officially welcomed the participants to the conference.
Government statistics in NYC show that one in every four women has experienced violence by their intimate partners. While news coverage on domestic violence have considerably increased in the past few years, victim-blaming and lack of context in stories remain notable.
Bea Hanson, executive director of the NYC Domestic Violence Task Force, said that her group has actually seen homicide cases going down since the implementation of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the first Federal legislation on domestic violence.
“But we have seen these decreases as having plateaued in the 2000s. How do we respond? Schools, media, and the community must be advocates of education on domestic violence,” Hanson said in her keynote speech.
The Office of the Mayor tasked to combat domestic violence released a recent study citing improvement in news coverage on “intimate partner homicide” in 2013-2016, but underscores the need for journalists to do the “necessary improvements on media coverage to shape intimate partner violence, not just homicide” as the context of reportage in order to facilitate public conversations.
The study made by Sandhya Kajeepeta, Kara Noesner, and Edward Hill of the Office of the NYC Mayor to Combat Domestic Violence found out that only 15% of the 442 articles studied in 2013-2016 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.
The study said that only 10 of the 442 articles (or 2.3%) covering NYC intimate partner homicides included an intimate partner violence advocate or expert as a source. Less than 6% of articles framed or put in context the homicide within the broader social problem of intimate partner violence.
The findings point out to media perception and language as a key factor in broadening the space for domestic violence conversation through news reports. Ermira Uldedaj, policy and training coordinator for the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence released the research study to OSM! online magazine.
NYC Domestic Violence Task Force’s Hanson meanwhile said that apart from a more comprehensive coverage of domestic violence, advocates needed to push for more safety spaces for victims. “We need to expand our city programs on safe homes and shelters and provide micro-credits for women’s independence. Victims would rather be safe and quiet rather than go to court to sue their perpetrators because they will be more at risk,” she explained.
According to Hanson, the movement to make women safe from their intimate partners began at the grassroots in the 1970s where women tried to save other women and placed them in their homes. “We have accomplished much, but their is no one size fits all solutions. We need to break barriers and create understanding of domestic violence in immigrant communities, faith communities, and schools,” Hanson said.
John Jay College Psychology professor Chitra Raghavan said that it was important for journalists to understand the chronic power imbalance between relationships of intimate partners. She explained that the concept of power is different between men and women. “Men feel power through aggression. They hit or put down their partners, as examples. Women, on the other hand, feel power through independence. They flee to have freedom. Journalists can express this in a more nuanced way than us psychologists,” Raghavan said.
(Featured photo is Ermira Uldedaj, Doreen Lesane, and Tina Rosenberg with moderator Melissa Jeltsen of the Huffington Post)