Media Guide for Professionals
In 2016, the Florida Attorney General’s Statewide Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team recommended the need to develop a domestic violence guide for media professionals (reporters, journalists and bloggers). The media plays an important role in raising a community’s awareness of an issue. How news stories are framed can shape the general public’s understanding and perception of an issue; this is especially true when it comes to the issue of domestic violence. Media reports can unintentionally place abuse victims in danger by contributing to a community’s misconceptions and stereotypes about victims and abusers.
This media guide is intended to provide information from a perspective that:
- dismantles the stigmas associated with victims of violence,
- assigns blame for the violence solely to perpetrators,
- deconstructs the myths surrounding domestic violence,
- exposes the dynamics/warning signs present in these relationships; and
- identifies local and state resources that members of the media can share with their audience, including survivors and/or worried family and friends.
Victim-blaming, prevalent in mainstream American culture, is found in music, films, television shows, and social media posts. The goal of this on-line guide is not to critique reporters and other members of the news media for content in those arenas, but to provide members of the professional media with suggestions to help tell these stories in ways that are productive to victims and non- victims alike.
Victim-blaming can and does happen, albeit often unintentionally, in how a news story is covered and the lens from which the story is framed. The way that media reports on domestic violence can offer individuals not experiencing the violence a false sense of control, giving the audience the perception that the victim could have done something to stop the violence and that the audience could not have similar experiences. Statements such as “If I were in the same situation I would,” or “If only she had done,” create the false belief that the victim had control over the violence occurring, which is not the case. Victim-blaming can also occur when stories suggest the victim has done something to cause or provoke the violence by using statements such as “she was crazy,” “obnoxious,” “out of line,” a “bad parent/spouse,” or by stating that victims chose to stay in the relationship.
Media professionals have an opportunity to impact the ways communities support survivor safety and hold perpetrators accountable by changing the syntax in reporting. For example, the use of the passive voice shifts attention away from perpetrator responsibility and contributes to the perception that violence just happens and communities are powerless to prevent it. Research indicates that describing acts of violence by naming the behavior of the perpetrator instead of the victim affects how people view the person responsible for the violence.
- The statement “the survivor received a threatening text message from the perpetrator” does not place responsibility on the person making the threat.
- “The perpetrator sent a text message to the survivor in which he threatened to hurt her,” conveys the message that the perpetrator is responsible for the threat.
- Language that portrays domestic violence as a “lovers quarrel” or “marital spat” frames the story in a passive voice. There is no acknowledgement that one person chose to commit an act of violence toward their intimate partner and, therefore, influences a community’s approach to naming and addressing domestic violence.
A community may be more motivated to work toward supporting the safety of survivors and their children if violence is attributed to the perpetrators’ behavior. Reporting practices, in these cases, help save lives.
- Media professionals can educate communities on the barriers survivors face in seeking safety and highlight the importance of holding perpetrators accountable within families and local communities, as well as the criminal and civil justice systems.
- Media coverage can advance awareness of the resources available to survivors, such as state certified domestic violence centers and the statewide domestic violence hotline, as well as national domestic violence and dating abuse hotlines
- Media coverage can help survivors, friends, family, and community members recognize warning signs of abuse. While acts of domestic violence cannot necessarily be predicted, learning about warning signs can increase survivor safety and help prevent future domestic violence cases.
Domestic violence and family violence are often used interchangeably and generally refer to types of abuse that include intimate partner violence, elder abuse, child abuse, sibling abuse, and other interfamilial violence. The Florida statutory definition of domestic violence includes family members, persons residing together as if a family, and persons having a child together.
Intimate partner violence (IPV) is violence in which one person engages in strategic, violent, and patterned behavior toward their intimate partner. While the term is often used interchangeably with domestic violence, IPV expands upon the traditional view that domestic violence is committed by a husband toward his wife to include relationships between non-married partners, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities. Women are typically at higher risk of experiencing intimate partner violence due to the inequality and imbalance of power between women and men in society. As a result of gender discrimination, and the abuser’s control tactics, women often have limited resources to escape abusive situations or to seek justice.
The term gender-based violence reflects the role gender inequality plays in intimate partner violence. FCADV recognizes that there are also male victims of domestic violence and that their experiences of violence should not be minimized. However, research indicates that more than 90 percent of "systematic, persistent, and injurious" violence is perpetrated by men. Therefore, the media guide uses male pronouns when referring to the perpetrator and female pronouns when referring to the survivor.
Terminology is important in the way we describe the person committing the violence and the recipient of the abuse.
- The criminal justice system uses the term “victim” to convey that the person is a victim of a crime. Victim is also used when a person loses their life due to intimate partner homicide.
- The term “survivor” is identified by many who have experienced abuse as more validating and empowering. For many, survivor connotes a sense of resourcefulness and empowerment, rather than a sense of helplessness. A person does not need to have left an abusive relationship to be considered a survivor since they are surviving the abuse every day.
- Terms frequently used for the person committing the violence include perpetrator, offender, abuser, and batterer.
There are some contextual differences between the social definition of domestic violence and Florida’s legal definition. Florida’s legal definition does not include emotional or psychological forms of abuse that can have a serious impact on survivors’ safety and psychological wellbeing but, on their own, are not a crime. Batterers can maintain power over their partners through verbally, emotionally, and financially abusive tactics, but as standalone actions, there may not be legal recourse for these behaviors.
 Kimmel, Michael S. "'Gender Symmetry' in Domestic Violence: A Substantive and Methodological Research Review," Violence Against Women 8(11) November 2002: 1332–1363.