Warning: This post discusses male violence against women.
I can’t believe I have to write this post again.
So, one more time for the journalists who still don’t get it: when you write your news stories about male violence against women, you need to stop pretending that there is no perpetrator of that violence.
It’s not like they don’t know how to report accurately, because they do it with other crime stories. But when it comes to reporting male violence against women, they like to pretend that violence is a cloud of gas that just hangs in the air waiting to happen at women. No other crime is reported as though there was no criminal.
Let’s start with this story on theage.com.au a few days ago: Tom Meagher says parole board ignored his emails: report. It’s been updated with comments by Victoria’s police commissioner Ken Lay since it was first published, but for most of the day the beginning of the story matched the headline. These were the first two pars (they’ve now been pushed a little lower):
Jill Meagher’s husband has lashed out at the Adult Parole Board, saying it disrespected him and its members are cowards after it failed to answer a series of questions about why her killer was free to prowl the streets and murder his wife.
Ms Meagher was snatched off the street while she was walking home in Brunswick last September. She was raped and strangled in an alley off Sydney Road before being buried in a shallow grave near Gisborne, north of Melbourne.
In the paragraph detailing Adrian Bayley’s crimes, he isn’t mentioned. Not even once. His actions are completely removed from him and just hang there, as things that happened to Jill Meagher.
Now look at this story by Maria Bervanakis on news.com.au today:
Again, there isn’t a single mention of the men who committed the crimes. The headline is terrible – Girl, 15, held on pot farm where she was locked in toolbox and used for sex – and the story begins:
A MISSING teenager was held captive on a marijuana farm in California where police allege she was locked up in a metal toolbox for days on end and used as a sex slave.
Wrong wrong wrong. It SHOULD read: Two men have been arrested for kidnapping and raping a 15-year-old girl.
Update 29 July: Smh.com.au has done the same thing today with this story:
And one more, this story from smh.com.au’s Megan Levy yesterday (hat tip to Femo bear for sending it to me): Father abducts son at knifepoint from Sydney home:
A car allegedly used to abduct a baby boy from a home in Sydney’s west has been found abandoned in Bargo, but police say there is still no sign of the child or his father.
The Toyota Camry was found on Avon Dam Road about 6.50am on Friday, nearly 12 hours after the eight-month-old boy and the baby’s 16-year-old mother were abducted from their home in Chester Hill at knifepoint.
It’s not until half way through the story – 7 pars in – that Levy reports that the man assaulted the woman. Hell, she didn’t even mention in the first sentence that he abducted her as well. It would have been terrifying – he has an AVO against him and he had a knife – but Levy almost ignores the man’s violence towards the woman. Why? Seriously, I’d really like to know why journalists report this way. If you’re a journalist, please let us know. (If you’re nervous about commenting, check out my comment policy. It’s a civil ship around here.)
Update 31 July: Dailytelegraph.com.au has done the same thing today:
And here’s the story: On-the-run dad hands himself in to Bankstown police:
A MAN, 24, who allegedly abducted his baby son last week handed himself into Bankstown police late last night.
Police spent more than five days searching for the man, who is accused of taking the eight-month-old and his ex-girlfriend from their south-western Sydney home on Thursday.
There she is, tucked into the middle of the sentence.
It’s really important that journalists stop pretending that there’s no one responsible for male violence against women. As Jane Tribune writes in this excellent piece, the way the media frames information “influences, if not dictates, how we think of it”. When you continuously remove the male perpetrator from the story – when you continuously pretend that violence is just something that happens to women – it’s not surprising that so many people still wrongly believe that it’s caused by something the woman did. Because how do we stop men being violent towards women if the public conversation we have about that violence says men aren’t responsible for it?