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Marital spat with a weapon?

OnYourMind: Marna Anderson, of WATCH, says it’s time to hold the media accountable on choice of words when reporting domestic violence
Most often, one encounters the media referring to a domestic assault as a “domestic dispute.” That is like calling a robbery a “commercial dispute.” As a society, we acknowledge that in a robbery, the person being robbed was at a disadvantage and had something taken against her or his will. But this is typically not the case with domestic violence. The media often minimizes domestic violence by framing incidents as “relationship troubles” or “arguments.” This infers a degree of partnership and equality in the relationship, something that rarely, if ever, exists when abuse is rife. A study conducted in the state of Washington reviewed 230 newspaper articles on domestic homicide and found that fewer than 22 percent accurately labeled the incident as domestic violence.

A Star Tribune report on the domestic homicide of Kathryn Anderson (“Boyfriend charged with homicide in Eagan woman’s death,” December 7, 2009) describes how she had been stabbed over 100 times after a “domestic dispute escalated.” The article goes on to report that the police had responded to previous “domestic disturbances” and quotes a friend of Anderson’s who said there had been “conflict” between them.

The real story

But this is not the real story. The real story is told between the lines of the news reports. It is not one of troubled marriages or relationships or ongoing arguments or disputes. The real story that rarely gets the headline is of the abusive partner’s controlling, threatening, physically violent behavior. This is the story that needs to be told. Domestic violence is a widespread community problem, and it is time the media reports it as such.

In large part to increased training and education on the topic, the courts have made the shift from viewing domestic violence as a private matter to treating it as a criminal one. A similar shift has occurred in the way the criminal justice system approaches the crime of rape. Thirty years ago, victims were often assigned blame because of the way they dressed or acted. Media reports routinely quoted perpetrators and ‘experts’ alike who said the victim was “asking for it.”
A recent national headline, “Sheen accused of using weapon in spat with wife,” reveals a common problem with media reports of domestic violence: They frequently report domestic assaults as arguments, spats or disputes.

This headline about actor Charlie Sheen is especially disingenuous because it reports that a weapon may have been used, yet still refers to the incident as a “spat.” Recent examples from local media include two Star Tribune headlines, “Slayings and suicide follow turbulent times,” (January 19, 2010), and “Domestic dispute leaves three dead at farmhouse” (January 18, 2010).For the rest of the story please visit:http://www.womenspress.com/main.asp?FromHome=1&TypeID=1&ArticleID=3550&SectionID=2&SubSectionID=738

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