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One-third of publications on men’s violence against women evaluated as inappropriate

Almost two years of media monitoring on the topic of men‘s violence against women shows that victim-blaming attitudes are still apparent in journalists’ publications. The Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson found that victim-blaming and unethical depiction of women victims in the online news media account to one-third of publications.

The Office started to track such publications from January 2018 till September 2019. The aim was to evaluate how common this practice is in the media, since the media has an impact on the attitudes of the society.

During the period of 21 months, 714 publications in total were registered and analyzed according to the guidelines “How to Write About Violence Against Women”. 476 (67%) of them were evaluated as appropriate, while 238 (33%) publications had unethical aspects when writing about men’s violence against women. As a result, the Office sent 137 letters to the journalists addressing their publications.

Concerning the particular cases of unethical writing, the most usual one was “assuming that the only cause of violence was the abuse of alcohol or drugs” (22% of all publications), in this way making gender irrelevant and distracting from the fact that the cause of such violence is the power imbalance and inequality within a couple. The journalists would emphasize that a perpetrator was “under the influence of alcohol”, “blinded by alcohol” etc., as if it was alcohol to blame for violence, not a person’s actions. They would also denote the blood alcohol concentration numbers of a perpetrator as his main characterizing feature.

However, the monitoring team came up with the decision that not every mentioning of an alcohol in this context should be seen as unethical reporting. Unethical are those cases when alcohol is presented as the one and only reason of men‘s violence against women.

Another common miswriting was “describing violence as an ordinary incident” (18%) and, as a result, giving impression that it’s only a conflict, disagreement or a family drama – not a crime. This kind of framing suggest an understanding to think about men’s violence against women as an incident where both parties are equally responsible for the act of violence.

The third most common case of unethical writing was “discussing the appearance of a victim, details of sex life, behavior, state (sobriety / drunkenness)” (12%), forming a reader’s impression that violence can be justified if a victim is herself of questionable morality or behavior. Usually the journalists would draw attention to the woman’s state (drunkenness).

Another example of miswriting seen in journalists’ publications was “making fun of violence against women, using irony and thus undermining its importance” (6%) which was added to the check-list of monitoring after the monitoring had been started. The team was disturbed by the repeating instances of such writing and decided to track how common this practice is.

The differentiated data unveils one more striking fact: almost 80% of inappropriate publications were marked as such because it had first and foremost the “assumption the only cause of violence was the abuse of alcohol or drugs”. This means that the gendered aspect of domestic men’s violence against women should be seen as extremely important topic when raising awareness for journalists.

It’s worth to notice that 538 publications (75% of all publications) did not provide contacts of help lines and shelters at the end of the text. When mailing to journalists, the team would include the information sheets with these contacts for journalists to use as well.

Even though the team did not undertake the comprehensive monitoring of the visual side of publications (title photo, illustrations inside the publication), they still took into account the visuals and registered them (although inconsistently). Without accessible methodology they could not evaluate the visuals properly but nevertheless they still came up with some remarks on it.

The most troubling aspect of the visual side of publications were recurrent display of illustrative photos showing an act of men’s violence against women. In the photos the illustration of violence could take a form of an object of abuse: a knife, a fist, an axe or a gun. It could also show an act of violence itself: a man beating a woman in a face, a woman crying in the corner, a woman trying to escape from a man, while a perpetrator would be in the front, with clenched fists or a gun in his hand, holding a woman or approaching her.

All these visuals are reproducing violence in a symbolic way and cannot provide women readers (among who might be women currently suffering from violence) with an empowering message. The monitoring team would suggest to use empowering images or images that emphasize the possibility of receiving help (for instance, images of the police, the ambulance, the lawyer or a judge, the photo of a women’s crisis center etc.), avoiding to cause a symbolic victimization with disturbing visuals, reminding and recreating an act of violence.

Full report with examples and statistical details can be found here in English.

 

The monitoring was done under the project “Stop violence against women: from (a)wareness to (z)ero victims blaming”, co-funded by the Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme of the European Union. The content of it is the sole responsibility of the Office of the Equal Opportunities and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Commission.

Birutė Sabatauskaitė

Birutė Sabatauskaitė

Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson of the Republic of Lithuania

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