Reporting on domestic violence leaves much to be desired

BRENT ROW

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Griffith University Domestic Violence Law lecturer Patricia Thompson with students of her Domestic Violence Law course. Source: Janelsa Ouma

Advocates for the prevention of domestic violence have called for more effective media reporting on domestic violence.

Following a serious assault on a Gold Coast woman last week, media reporting focused on the perpetrator’s history as a bikie, or framing it as a sensational act of road rage.

Diane Mangan, the CEO of Queensland service DV Connect, says the media reporting the assault as road rage disguises the true nature of the assault as an act of domestic violence.

“The first thing that we latch onto as an area of concern is ‘road rage’. The outcome was an act of road rage, but it was an act towards his wife in a domestic violence setting,” Ms Mangan said.

Griffith University Domestic Violence Law lecturer Patricia Thompson says the media take a blinkered view of domestic violence when they report serious incidents.

“Straight away, when you read ‘domestic violence incident’ it gives you an idea or an inference that it is a one-off thing, when domestic violence is never a one off thing,” Ms Thompson said.

“The one off ‘incident’ that they [were] reporting [was] possibly attempted murder. The seriousness of what has actually occurred is being minimised by the words being chosen to report on the story,” she said.

Diane Mangan says the use of the phrase ‘domestic dispute’ when reporting on domestic violence limits the public’s understanding of the true nature of domestic violence.

“I think it diminishes what the reading public is seeing about what we are calling domestic violence. Domestic violence is nothing to do with a dispute. Domestic violence is when someone lives in fear of another person.”

Patricia Thompson says the focus on the perpetrator’s bikie gang links create distance between the reader and the reality of the prevalence and seriousness of domestic violence in Australia.

“The way of expressing that, is language which pushes that person away from us, the general public,” Ms Thompson said.

According to Ms Thompson, using this style of language pushes the responsibility to act on domestic violence away from the reading public.

“The way that this is reported gives the impression through the language that is used that this is ‘the other’, that this is not us. Well it’s home now, and it’s time to report that this is us, it’s our responsibility as a society to start addressing it and start speaking out about it,” she said.

*This article also appears on the Project Safe Space website.   Project Safe Space is the online project developed by Griffith University Journalism and Law students to investigate ways to change the way the media and law approach domestic violence

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