Framing a topic means making choices about what we say and how we say it.
Using accurate language to talk about domestic violence can help build public and political understanding, meaning better outcomes for society.
As we often see stories about domestic violence in the media, there are three main things we can remember when considering how an article or news piece reports on this issue.
This will allow us to not only challenge inaccurate language around domestic violence, but also reflect on our own understanding.
Responsibility for domestic violence should be placed solely on the perpetrator. This means avoiding speculative “reasons” and “triggers” or sympathetic clichés like “jilted lover”.
Oscar Pistorius, former athlete jailed for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, will be released from prison on parole in January 2024. Numerous articles, which don’t always include Steenkamp’s name, feature accounts of his sporting achievements, citing him as “an international hero who inspired millions” until “he suddenly found himself at the centre of a murder investigation”. This use of language that diverts attention to his achievements as opposed to the violent crime he was convicted of, showcases an inherent bias and minimisation of the dangers and permanent damage done by perpetrators.
In fact, homicides are rarely random and violence against women is usually underpinned by a longstanding sense of ownership and coercive control. Greater awareness around this leads to a more accurate understanding of domestic violence, meaning we are better able to tackle it.
Name the crime
Cases of domestic violence should be described as such, they are not just a “tragedy” or “horror”. Naming the crime means that we can begin to look at the bigger picture – making the link to structural issues.
In addition, news stories reporting on domestic violence should always signpost to relevant support services at the end of the piece. Domestic violence is present in every corner of society, making people aware of the support available is vital.
When reporting on domestic violence and abuse, journalists should avoid sensational language, as well as invasive or graphic details that comprise the dignity of the victim or their surviving family members.
In addition, this use of language can work to distract from the fact that domestic violence does not account for the occasional incident, it is a prominent issue in our society. People who choose to share their experiences should be treated as expert contributors who have ownership over their own stories, not case studies who experiences are used simply to providing a shocking news piece.
Anawim’s free, confidential helpline is available on 0800 019 8818 for anyone who identifies as a women to speak with a specialist female caseworker about domestic abuse, mental health, finances, housing or anything else.
Of course, it is not just women who experience domestic violence and abuse. Men can contact Respect’s helpline on 0808 8010327 to speak with someone about domestic abuse.
LGBT+ and anti-violence charity Galop provide a national Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans+ domestic abuse helpline on 0800 999 5428. They can also provide support for those who have experienced hate crime and sexual violence.