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Feminist organisation publishes guidelines to reporting domestic violence ‘in a dignified way’

Two women are murdered by a partner or ex-partner every week in the UK

Olivia Petter
Monday 08 October 2018 15:15 BST
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(Getty/iStock)

A campaign group has developed a set of media guidelines to combat “undignified” reports of domestic violence which may cause further damage to victims and their families.

Level Up, who published the guidelines, was founded in 2016 by a group of feminist campaigners and aims to tackle sexism in the UK through activism and education.

The new guidelines instruct journalists how to report on domestic violence in the safest and most sensitive way possible and were written by a coalition of academics, survivors’ families and representatives from domestic violence charities.

According to recent figures published by the Office for National Statistics, the majority (70 per cent) of victims of domestic violence deaths are female.

Every week in the UK, two women are murdered by a partner or ex-partner.

The guidelines themselves emphasise the need for sensitive reporting that is neither sensational nor speculative and stress the importance of preserving the dignity of the deceased.

Headlines are of particular importance, they state, as many dilute the responsibility of the killer via phrases such as "he lost control".

Meanwhile, in terms of imagery, they advise avoiding photographs which suggest domestic abuse is an exclusively physical crime.

‘We’re calling for more responsible reporting,” said Level Up's campaign manager Janey Starling.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Woman’s Hour, Starling highlighted the importance of combating speculative journalism, calling it “unacceptable” for a journalist assume knowledge regarding why a man has done what he’s done rather than looking at the wider context.

She explained that some reports wrongfully frame domestic violence murders using language of love, resorting to clichés such as “doting husband” and “adoring father”.

When used in court, Starling said that such language can lead to lighter sentencing.

“It’s not okay for the press to be echoing those mythical ideas around a man murdering his life because he loved her so much, it doesn’t make any sense to anyone” she said.

“Domestic violence death is not a crime of passion, it’s a crime of control and we really need to start talking about it in those terms,” she added, describing every article as “an opportunity to prevent more deaths.”

Starling presented some headlines in the programme which frame the deaths of female victims of domestic abuse as a result of their own actions e.g. “hubby guilty of murdering his wife after row over her lesbian tryst”.

Headlines such as these are holding back our progress as a society, she added.

See below for a five-point summary of the guidelines:

  1. Accountability: Place responsibility solely on the killer, which means avoiding speculative “reasons” or “triggers”, or describing the murder as an uncharacteristic event. Homicides are usually underpinned by a longstanding sense of ownership, coercive control and possessive behaviours: they are not a random event.

  2. Accuracy: Name the crime as domestic violence, instead of “tragedy” or “horror”, and include the National Domestic Violence Helpline at the end of the article: 0808 2000 247.

  3. Dignity: Avoid sensationalising language, invasive or graphic details that compromise the dignity of the dead woman or her surviving family members.

  4. Equality: Avoid insensitive or trivialising language or images.

  5. Images: Avoid using stock images that reinforce the myth that it’s only a physical crime.

You can call the Domestic Violence Helpline for free on 0808 2000 247.

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