By Hannah Mian – Campaigns, Hacked Off
Reports of domestic violence have seen an increase of up to 21% since the country went into lockdown, with the UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, Refuge, reporting a 700% increase in calls to its helpline in a single day.
The surge in reports of violence in the home across the globe has led UN Women to refer to it as a “shadow pandemic.”
We know that domestic violence and domestic homicide cases are often reported on irresponsibly by the UK press. We have collected a number of examples of irresponsible, inaccurate and damaging reporting on these crimes since the Covid19 outbreak.
Every article below illustrates why we desperately need tougher press regulation in this area. Hacked Off have been campaigning for better domestic violence reporting, alongside experts in this field, for years.
In 2018 feminist organization ‘Level Up’ created detailed and informed ‘Media Guidelines’ on domestic violence reporting – in collaboration with journalists, criminologists, domestic violence experts and victims’ families.
A genuine, independent press regulator would be proactively ensuring these excellent recommendations are delivered to newsrooms across the country. Instead, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) have only managed to post an external link to the guidelines on their website. This simply isn’t good enough.
Level Up’s guidelines repeatedly underline the importance of avoiding speculative “reasons” or “triggers” and trivialising language. Domestic homicides usually signify the endpoint of a period of long-standing coercive control and possessive behaviours. They are not random, uncharacteristic events. They are highly unlikely to occur solely due to stress or any other factors related to 3 weeks of Government lockdown measures.
Below is a list of articles published in recent weeks which all make the same deeply problematic suggestion that quarantine or lockdown is driving people to murder their partners:
This MailOnline article uses alleged quotes from a “neighbour” citing “lockdown stress” as a possible reason why an NHS nurse was killed by her partner.
The headline suggests these nine listed homicides were all somehow related to the Government lockdown.
Underneath the headline, summary points are followed by a link to an article on Coronavirus symptoms and when to seek health advice.
Both the Mirror and the Daily Mail refer in their headlines to the killer “struggling” to cope with the Government lockdown. This kind of speculative reporting trivialises the homicide and suggests UK lockdown may have been some kind of ‘reason’ or ‘trigger’ for the abuser.
This is wrong – responsibility should be placed solely on the killer and every effort should be made to paint a whole picture of the case – to inform the public that statistically emotional and/or physical abuse precedes domestic homicide.
The MailOnline again bases its headline on purely speculative ‘reasons’ why this man murdered his partner and children. The headline suggests this triple homicide may have occurred due to the killer’s “cash trouble.” The Daily Mail’s only source seems to be an “acquaintance” who believed the killer’s plans “fell apart” during this lockdown period.
This Mirror headline places sole reasoning for this domestic homicide on a mistaken Covid19 diagnosis. There is no reference to the myriad of coercive and controlling behaviours that often precede domestic homicides.
A possible history of emotional abuse is not even touched upon in the body of the article.
We are only given this detail:
This Sun headline refers to this domestic homicide as a ‘LOCKDOWN ‘MURDER.’’ The killer’s statement in Court provides the basis for the headline and content of the whole piece.
Level Up’s media guidelines specifically warn journalists not to build a piece which relies solely on the defendant’s claims in court; the deceased woman is unable to verify any of this.
Media narratives on these crimes have a huge societal impact. Accurate, sensitive reporting can help those at risk identify the signs in their partner and access support, and it may help families of the deceased seek justice. Level Up’s Campaign Director Janey Starling previously warned that “research shows that reports of domestic homicides that reinforce a narrative of romantic ‘love’ can lead to lighter sentencing in court, and sympathy for killers.”
Victims of domestic homicide and domestic violence survivors deserve better than sensational, inaccurate and often lazy journalism that paints a very simplistic picture. Press coverage has the power to shape the public’s understanding of domestic abuse. As it stands, victims of that violence are being repeatedly failed.
We urge journalists to take the utmost care when reporting on these cases and we will be applying renewed pressure on the so-called press regulator IPSO to proactively ensure these guidelines are being followed by journalists across the country.
If you are in isolation with anyone abusive please read Women’s Aid ‘Covid-19/Coronavirus Safety Advice For Survivors.’
The National Domestic Violence Helpline number is 0808 2000 247.