Two in three families affected by fatal domestic abuse want to speak to the press to raise awareness of the issue – but the same proportion ultimately felt reporting of their case had negatively impacted their grieving process, according to an indicative survey.
Fifteen families who had seen a loved one killed through domestic abuse responded to a survey and just under half (47%) said their experiences with the press had been positive.
- March 25, 2021
- March 11, 2021
- January 22, 2021
Two in three of the families said the reporting of their case was at least partly respectful and dignified.
Publications praised included the Daily Mail, Daily Record, Dundee Courier, Evening Gazette, the Guardian, the i, Shropshire Star, STV, the Sun, and the Telegraph – although the Mail and Sun were also among those criticised in the report.
The best experiences came when articles were “accurate and factual without speculation or sensationalism”, when they focused on the abuse the victim had suffered rather than on their past, and when families had regular contact and input into the final story.
However a third of the families said their experiences had been negative, mainly because journalists had invaded their privacy during their immediate grief by approaching them at home or, in one case, repeatedly phoning an elderly grandmother.
“They did not put any consideration as to my mum as a person, or the fact she had served the community in Leeds in the NHS for over 20 years,” a bereaved daughter said. “[The press were] more interested in the sensationalist aspects of killing.”
Another criticised a national newspaper for doorstepping a teenage family member when no adults were home, saying: “I feel dreadfully sorry for him because he did not know how to react and was left in fear.
“He was petrified that my sister’s killer would come for him…He was also extremely anxious about saying something that could be used against him or allow her killer to be released.”
Concerns were also raised over “victim-blaming” with some news articles describing the deceased as “murderable” and “a nightmare”, and over perpetrators being centred in reports, allowing them to “play the victim”.
Only two of the respondents said reporting of their case had been wholly inaccurate, but only two also said it was wholly accurate.
Overall, none of the families said they were left feeling like they could confidently trust journalists. Some 60% said they were unsure if they should trust them, and 40% said they were unable to do so.
Despite this, almost half said they would still like to be introduced to a journalist they could trust to tell their story.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation, which regulates many of the publications mentioned in the report and had oversight of the survey questions before they were sent out, went completely unknown to half of the survey respondents.
Only 13% of them understood the process for complaining about articles, even though they reported instances which may have breached Clause 4 (intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. And 93% did not believe the rules on reporting fatal domestic abuse were strong enough.
Campaign groups Level Up and Advocacy After Fatal Domestic Abuse, which conducted the research, recommended that IPSO make its complaints process more accessible, introduce a sub-clause specific to fatal domestic abuse in Clause 4, and use its network to run training for journalists on sensitive reporting.
The organisations said they would like to form an advisory group with IPSO made up of bereaved families that could help the press continue to build on best practice.
IPSO chief executive Charlotte Dewar said: “The report rightly recognises the important role that the media plays in raising awareness and helping public understanding of domestic abuse but shows more could be done to raise awareness of how IPSO can support those affected.
“We look forward to discussing the report’s recommendations and working with Level Up and others to support families affected.”
Janey Starling, co-director of Level Up, said: “Every article on a fatal domestic abuse case is an opportunity to speak a victim’s truth, which is vital to preventing further fatalities and to supporting the bereaved family’s healing. Journalists are regularly missing these opportunities, and re-traumatising families in the process.”
One family member said: “Journalists need to be aware of the myths and incorrect stereotypes that they may unconsciously be propagating.
“The effect of their reporting, not only on the surviving family members, but how their writing can hinder progress on tackling domestic abuse nationwide.”
Others pointed out that despite the old saying “today’s news becomes tomorrow’s chip paper”, articles nowadays stay online for years.
Journalists were therefore advised to ensure their reporting is done in a “sensitive and contextualised” manner, prioritising dignity and respect to victims, paying careful attention to accuracy and context, communicating with the family during the drafting of the article if they are in direct contact,.
They should also ideally avoid publishing images of the perpetrator and excluding any narrative that positions the victim as potentially blame-worthy for their own killing, the report said.
Picture: Laura Dodsworth