One more time for the slow learners

Warning: This post discusses male violence against women.

I can’t believe I have to write this post again.

Again 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:

All these things that just happened to the girl.

All these things that just happened to the girl.

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:

Apart from the fact that the headline has nothing to do with the standfirst, the online journo has connected the violence to the woman, not the men who did it.

Apart from the fact that the headline has nothing to do with the standfirst, the online journo has connected the violence to the woman, not the men who did it.

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:

Oops, the journos at dailytelegraph.com.au forgot to mention that he also allegedly abducted a woman.

Oops, the journos at dailytelegraph.com.au forgot to mention that he also allegedly abducted a woman.

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?

36 responses to “One more time for the slow learners

  1. Hear, hear: “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?”

  2. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

  3. I’m so very angry at the way journalists seem to disregard their impact on society, and the way it views situations.
    Maybe it’s because this just isn’t taught to them, maybe it’s just not explained – maybe they just don’t care.

    It just can’t be that hard. It can’t.

    • In my experience, as long as they’re doing it the same as everyone else, that’s enough to “know” they are doing their job properly. I used to be the same. But I know a lot of journalists read this blog, and contact me about it, so they aren’t clueless.

  4. If you want more proof of how ridiculous this reporting is, check out Convenience Store Robbed by Juzzy Tribune. (If you don’t already subscribe to The King’s Tribune, you should give them your money. It’s only $5 a month.)

  5. Deborah Martin

    In this vein, what do you think of the continued framing of Tracey Connelly’s murder in the context of her being a prostitute? This morning in the Herald Sun is an article titled ‘Clients key to prostitute Tracy Connelly’s murder. Then, as if we were really slow, the first par is:
    “THE boyfriend of murdered prostitute Tracy Connelly has paid tribute to his “beautiful angel”.
    The link to the full article is below:
    Read more: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/national-news/victoria/clients-key-to-prostitute-tracy-connelly8217s-murder/story-fnii5sms-1226686549939#ixzz2aDWPB93K

    I genuinely want to know – am I over-sensitive for being offended (on Tracey’s behalf) that she is continuously referenced as a prostitute? Are the media right for linking her job to her murder, or is it sexist and demeaning to link the two, as if she somehow brought it on herself by her choice of profession? Why is she not simply ‘murdered woman Tracey Connelly’?

    A genuine question, would love your thoughts.

    • I think the offense isn’t at her profession, I think it’s the apparent blaming of her profession.
      The media reference it – perhaps innocently – as it gives a cause as to why she was murdered “OH! she was a PROSTITUTE!” It’s victim blaming, and I don’t know they even see it.

    • Hi Deborah, I think it’s really shitty because there’s so much tied up in the word prostitute. Firstly, there’s something sensationalist about screaming PROSTITUTE at every opportunity. Secondly, the constant reminders that she was a sex worker are to tell people that she probably deserved it because she was doing something wrong. And thirdly, that she’s not a “good” woman, not the right kind of woman, so we don’t need to be outraged by her murder. And this is what Jane Tribune writes about in the piece I linked to above: Woman Brutally Murdered in Inner Melbourne

      Also, the sex industry in Australia has been using the term sex worker since the 70s, for fuck’s sake, yet journalists STILL use prostitute. I shouldn’t be surprised by that – they still use “wheelchair-bound” instead of wheelchair user, despite being told many many times.

      • Deborah Martin

        Thank you for that link to the Jane Tribune article – she sums it up most succinctly. And thank you for affirming what I felt (ie that it is a really shitty way to describe a human being’s value). Not to mention out of date language usage.

        Which begs a further (perhaps rhetorical) question – are journalists really that lazy and out of touch??

        • Journalists are VERY resistant to outsiders telling them they’re not doing something right, whether it’s the way they cover certain issues or the language they use. Which, to an extent, is fair enough – how would most people react if members of the public started commenting on whether they are good at their jobs? But when your job requires members of the public to pay for it/pay attention to it, then surely it’s in your best interests to listen to why they are getting sick of your product?

          • I work in an industry where the public DOES tell us we suck at our jobs most days! So I get the frustration of knowing you’re doing what you can…
            But sometimes, you have to suck it up and listen. Especially when a by product of your work is educating the public, and shaping their behaviours and beliefs. Especially when the beliefs you’re shaping help direct a dialogue around violence towards women (or anyone, for that matter).

            I think the problem is the general public isn’t getting sick of it, not yet anyway. Because they’re not seeing an alternative, because they don’t understand what they’re reading impacts them so. I think they’re probably more sick of us!

    • I agree totally; how often do you read a mention of another injured or killed woman’s (or man’s) work choice in the press, if s/he is NOT a prostitute. It’s almost as if the sub-text is, ‘well, what do you expect?’.

  6. I just wanted to add – She wasn’t killed because she was a sex worker. Her murderer may have (and may not have) had easier access to her because of this, but she was not killed because of her job.

  7. They’re all terrible, but my god, that last one! If you only read the first paragraph you might find yourself getting worried about the baby’s father, because it reads like “we know the baby was kidnapped in this car, but we don’t know where his father is”. As though dad-and-baby were at home, someone’s seen the baby being abducted but no one can find the father.

    What pisses me off is that that’s the explanation my brain immediately goes to, because surely if the father were the kidnapper that would kind of be the main point of the story?

  8. I am always impressed by your ability to put your finger on the problem! We are oh-so-formatted to overlook such things and we need you to pull us up by the ears as often as possible.I have three young adult sons and am constantly reminding them to modify their language about women but it is an uphill struggle, despite the fact that they have a feminist mother, because newspapers, TV, the Web, you name it, keep on putting women down in subtle and not so subtle ways.

  9. Excellent post – good to point out the denial of agency in the way these crimes against women are reported, and of course if we can’t name it, it is so much harder to fight against.
    I can, kinda, see that specifying this man or other has been arrested for whatever could be problematic until the outcome of the trial… kinda… but seeing ‘woman got raped’ or ‘woman got murdered’ or ‘woman got kidnapped, abused, raped… etc’ as if nobody did it to her is only a mini-step from reading ‘woman got herself raped’.
    I was pleased to see a few years ago that the Ipswich case (in the UK: guy murdered and dumped several young women over a short period) was reported better in terms of showing the victims as people with loved ones, neighbours, children who would mourn for them, instead of as sex workers and drug addicts (which they also were). Reporting them as human instead of as stigmatised by their work was a great improvement on how it used to be reported.

    • Do you know if the reporting of that case has stuck around, influencing the way reporting is done now? Or was it just a one-off?

      You mentioned a possible legal issue at the start of your comment. As long as it’s reported as “alleged”, then there is no legal problem with reporting it with the focus on the crime and alleged criminal, rather than the victim.

      Bluecat, welcome to the News with Nipples.

  10. Please, please stick to your guns on this. I had not fully realized the problem until I read this and one other of your articles on the problem.
    Many men are violent toward women. I hear them say it in general conversation all the time, calling the woman a b**** or whatever and not ever making her a person. I think I may well begin just sticking my nose in the conversation and bringing that up. It could get me hurt, but, then again, that is battery…
    Scott

    • Thanks kindredspirit23. Did you see the piece by Victoria’s police commissioner last week?


      We’re never going to extinguish all violence. We can’t create a utopia. And I’m not suggesting that parents don’t talk to their children about safety. What I’m saying is that the emphasis on the victim is disproportionate and that’s damaging because men aren’t having hard conversations with each other.

      So, guys: take a stand. Examine your own behaviour and attitudes. Re-calibrate whatever weird sense of manhood might tell you that the casual molestation of women is OK.

      This is your issue just as much as anybody else’s.

  11. I have complained about this for years as well. And I can’t say I’ve seen much evidence that the coverage has got any better during that time.

    • No, I can’t see any evidence for that either. It seems to be worse, but that could be because violent crime is now reported nationwide, instead of just being in the state-based papers.

      Silverside58, welcome to the News with Nipples.

  12. Reading this, I thought it might be really worthwhile to approach colleges and universities where they teach journalism, to hold a lecture on this…?

    • That’s a good idea, but there’s a lot of research that shows that once journalism students graduate and get jobs in mainstream newsrooms, they dismiss what they learned in college/university, in an effort to fit in with their colleagues. Despite most journalists now being university-educated, and interviewing academics on every subject for their news stories, they think journalism academics are irrelevant and wrong. Odd, huh?

      Anki, welcome to the News with Nipples. I will email repeat offender Megan Levy today as her story in the SMH about a man assaulting a woman begins:

      A visually impaired woman who walks with a white cane was indecently assaulted and stalked for more than an hour across Sydney’s train network in what police described as an “appalling” attack.

      No mention of the offender.

  13. Hey there. I LOVE your story and agree 100% as a woman who suffered domestic violence at the hands of my psychotic ex husband you are 100% correct. We’ve been seperated and divorced for almost 4 years now and he STILL breaches his restraining order. I have friends from a dv support group whos ex has beaten her multiple times within an inch of her life… while holding their 1 year old. With well over 200 restraining order breaches they STILL let him out on bail… and he then breaches it AGAIN. Shes had to change towns leaving children from a previous relationship behind with their father for their own safety while her and her bub hide out until he HOPEFULLY goes to jail. My exhusband left for someone else. And yet he STILL harrasses and tries to intimidate me. Luckily my fiance is VERY PROTECTIVE. The media perpetuates violence against woman all the time. And ur right we are made to feel like its our fault. And whats worse is the justice system lets these mongrels get away with it. you keep raising awareness in the hopes ONE DAY things will change I challenge any and all journos to CHAMGE THE WAY U REPORT ON VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMAN. ESPECIALLY female journos. How would YOU want it reported if it happened to you and male journos. How.would YOU want it reproted if it was ur wife mother sister or daughter.??

    • Oh Kelly, what a horrible horrible thing to go through. I hope you are ok and have a good support network around you to help you deal with it and help you when you can’t deal with it.

      I agree that journalists – female and male – should think about how they’d feel if the violence was closer to home.

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  16. From memory, our main journo lecturer had quite a bit to say on this subject, – taught us all about the tendency to use passive voice when describing violence against women (and to avoid the fuck out of it) but if, like you say, that’s the way stories are written in the newsroom then things are unlikely to change.

    I’m guessing … but perhaps it’s a way of dissociating? I’d imagine writing about horrid things day-in day-out requires a level of mental disconnenction from the subject matter in order to function (God knows I avoid even reading the paper if I’m having a rough morning)…

    • Perhaps. But other horrible crimes aren’t written in the passive voice. I really don’t think it’s a deliberate decision to write like this – they’re just doing it the way they’ve always done, the way everyone else has always done.

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