Telling girls the truth about domestic violence

Constantly, I am dismayed by the reporting style used in national and local media when women lose their lives as a result of domestic violence.

Reporters cannot escape the temptation to describe these deaths as domestic ‘incidents’. Most avoid use of the word ‘murder’.  Unpalatable though it is that some men are capable of killing their partners and ex partners, it is murder, and needs to be identified as such. The reporting often chooses to focus on the manner in which a woman was killed, and the author always seeks to find a so called ‘explanation’ why the man ‘lost control’. They always miss the point that this is always about exerting control, and is often premeditated, and is not about loss of control. Wherever possible we hear the woman was ‘planning to leave’ as if this condones or explains retaliation as vicious as the taking of her life. The woman’s behaviour and conduct is put under the spotlight, examined and judged.

What the reports never tell the reader is that two women every week are killed by their partner or ex-partner. The dots are not joined up. They never include the free phone helplines for Refuge of Women’s Aid. The incident is not put in any context to empower women in similar situations to identify the abuse they are living with or seeking to escape from. The journalists generally miss the chance to describe the bigger picture, where teenagers and older women alike experience physical and psychological abuse. In fact the majority of the articles never use the word ‘domestic violence’. They do not seek to investigate whether this was the final tragic act of a pattern of abuse.

People always ask why women stay. They never ask why men don’t stop. Not enough women hear that patterns of violence often start when women are pregnant. Not enough women are taught that the pattern can escalate, that attempting to leave or end the violent relationship is the most dangerous (and potentially life threatening) point. Project workers know that telling women these facts can keep them safer. All young women in every secondary school need to know this.

This week, on Woman’s Hour, one older woman movingly described living with a violent and controlling partner for 37 years. She explained why she believed it was more important to maintain a ‘home’ for her daughter to return to than to leave to secure her own safety. Her own mother told her to be patient. I hope we can teach the next generation of young women not to be patient. I hope we can empower them not to tolerate abuse, not to ignore controlling behaviour or blame themselves, and how to seek help. I hope we can protect the specialist services that save womens’ lives.

Already this year, one woman has been killed. Susan McGoldrick, a mother, a sister, a daughter. We all have to do more to change the attitudes which lead to domestic violence.

Rdm 11, GEA member


2 thoughts on “Telling girls the truth about domestic violence

  1. Let’s not forget that whilst the majority of domestic violence is perpetrated by men against women,domestic violence also takes place within same sex relationships…

  2. Exactly! In fact, myself and colleagues had the very same discussion about reporting this morning. It seems hours are spent wondering why such an “incident happened” as if no-one actually made it happen. And, yes, not a word about domestic violence, as if reporters are almost hard-wired not to ask this that seems glaringly obvious to many of us.

    I also have an issue with the often reported “fact” that she “had an affair”, we often get this “fact” from the bloke who killed her… but it is ignored that abused women rarely get the opportunity to get up to anything like that, such is the level of control. Further this is often the fantasy or fear of the bloke presented as factual. And, for gawd’s sake, I always thought that was what divorce was for! And, even furhter, why can’t our press present that as a bad thing rather than an “explanation”!?

    Just a thought on telling women the truth if I may – I absolutely agree on letting women know the points of danger, rather than pushing them towards it. And yes to tackling women blaming themselves and letting them know what help is available. However, I do wonder about the “tolerating abuse” bit and the “ignoring controlling behaviour” – many women don’t whether they choose to stay or not. My feeling is that naming the behaviours is key and much of my support work with women has been about giving space for a step back from the situation. But I wonder if we believe that abuse continues because women do nothing doesn’t sit right for me – the fact that the most active thing a woman can do (i.e. leaving) is the most dangerous tells me this.

    In some ways it doesn’t really matter what women do, of course, they can and should be helped to make themselves safer in the face of abuse, and this may work, sometimes. But noticing it doesn’t change that fact that it happens.

    The only way to really change it rather than find ways of coping – which are entirely valid for individual women and I am not knocking for one minute, but cannot and never will stop abuse – is to tackle the behaviour at source. Teach boys not to be violent and abusive and we could really get somewhere. Deal with the source of the problem – abusive men – whether it be by community programme or the criminal justice system, and who knows where we could be…

    In sisterhood,

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