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


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