For the purpose of this piece, I’m going to use Domestic Violence (DV) as a proxy for intimate partner violence. DV is not isolated to physical abuse in a relationship between people with the same power. DV is a pattern of coercion and control that may or may not use physical or sexual violence. Just one incident, or even the threat of it, may be enough to hold this system in place. It is a pattern of abuse that deeply unsettles, undermines and controls a victim.
When reporting on suspected domestic violence, it is critical that media (this goes for the police and courts as well) try to understand how this dynamic might affect what someone says and does. It is important to know that if you ask a victim a question, especially in front of their abuser, they may well seek to protect their abuser in an effort to protect themselves. It is also important to understand that if you ask an abuser a question you may well get an answer that in some way continues these patterns of abuse.
It is important to know that if your report is likely to elicit a public reaction against the abuser, and the couple is still together, she may well be at heightened risk of abuse. It is worth considering whether the story could be interpreted as validating violence against women and children, and a sense that it’s not right to intervene.
It might also be useful to consider how your story may reinforce or negate racist views and whether this will help a victim get help or further isolate a victim. If there is reason to suspect DV, the responsible action is to obtain advice from a victim/survivor agency on how to report on the case safely.
And finally, it is also always a good idea to include contact details for relevant help agencies for victims and people who use violence. I would particularly like to highlight the amazing work of Shakti, a specialist provider of culturally competent support services for women, children and families of Asian, African and Middle Eastern origin.
In short, the reporting by Newshub’s ‘Story’ program this week is a perfect example of pretty much everything you should avoid. The story interviewed an abuser and partner live on air. I’m not going to link to it because that would draw attention to it, but be assured, it was terrible.