Tips for the media on reporting rape and domestic violence homicides


When a woman is killed by her husband, it is not love and it is not an isolated event.

The killing is about power, control and regarding the woman as his possession.

It is not an isolated event, because it is something that happens in every country on the planet and has done so for thousands of years.

Since Verity McLean was killed this week, allegedly by her husband, the media has reported on a “love triangle” in Invercargill because she had left her husband and was in a relationship with another man.

As is always the case with media reporting of men who kill their wives or children, we have been told Ben McLean was “well liked,” “a nice guy” and “the type of guy who took his kids on family outings to the river and helped out at local school fundraisers.”

Unbelievably, one story reported that “He wasn’t the type of guy who shoots his wife with a .22 calibre rifle before turning it on a man who was one of his close mates.”

Did the journalists typing these words stop to think about them ?

How can it be said McLean wasn’t that “type of guy,” when this is exactly what he is accused of doing ?

The most New Zealand headline of all was “Shot woman Verity McLean daughter of former All Black.”

How is this relevant to her killing ?

It simply continues the practice of defining women entirely by our relationships to men. Women are not individuals but “a policeman’s wife,” or “an All Black’s daughter.”

When Alan Bristol killed his three daughters in 1994, he was reported to be a “devoted father.”

23 years later, the media narrative about domestic violence homicides remains essentially the same.

Similarly dangerous and inaccurate reporting occurs in relation to rape. It is common for stories to state the victim wasn’t “injured” or “hurt”.

Really ?

One sexual assault story was headlined “Man forced to watch as girlfriend raped.”

The man watching was neither the main event, nor the major trauma, there.

This reporting by the media is not only inaccurate: it is dangerous.

By asserting that a domestic violence homicide is an individual and isolated event, we disguise the prevalence of domestic violence.

Such reporting also makes it less likely that action will be taken to eliminate domestic violence.

If a killing is simply an isolated tragedy, then we feel there is nothing to be done about it.

But the fact is that, in the United States, on average three women are killed every day by their partners.

New Zealand has the highest reported rate of intimate partner violence in the developed world.

If the story was put in this global context of thousands of women being killed every year by their intimate partners, we would see the situation very differently.

We might even ask: why has this been happening for thousands of years and what can I - and we - do to end it ?

And if the media reported that the time a woman leaves a relationship is the time her partner is most likely to kill her, maybe we would do more to stop men from killing women.


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