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Media coverage of domestic violence put down my mother's courage

September 22 2017 By TASMA WALTON, OUR WATCH AMBASSADOR

As a young woman, in my late teens and early 20s, I struggled to make sense of the things that happened in my home when I was a child.

I had a habit of collecting newspaper articles, sometimes the headlines were big and splashy, screaming out things like "why did she stay?"

Mostly they were small, one-paragraph footnotes, like "murder-suicide in apartment" or "woman dead in home".

I cut these articles out and kept them, I guess because I felt I knew intimately who these women were.
I could easily picture what may have been the reality of their everyday lives – the broken ribs, the dislocated jaws, the burst eardrums; being called a bitch or a slut or ugly or stupid over and over, until that was all they believed they were; the constant walking on eggshells around a man who in one moment professed a love beyond death and in the next slammed their head against a wall.
 
I kept those articles because they angered and disgusted me; with their gross misconceptions about violence against women; their readiness to blame the victim and pass judgment on her; and their extraordinary eagerness to offer up excuses for violent abusers and murderers.

As a young girl who witnessed and survived violence in the home, how the issue was reported personally, and deeply, impacted me.
 
And almost every article I read, over so many years, denigrated my mother's courage and strength, and perpetuated a culture that excuses, trivialises and downplays violence against women and their children.
 
And in truth, I also kept those articles, because I was looking for answers, reasons, to help me make sense of my experience.
 
I guess I was hoping to find some sort of confirmation, somewhere, that the violence at home was not something my mum, my sisters or I were responsible for.
 
That it wasn't our fault. It wasn't my mum's fault.
 
That the recurring abuse, the fear, the deep-seated trauma, was inflicted by a violent male. He was to blame.
 
As a young woman looking for answers, it would have been life changing for me if situations like mine had been accurately reflected in the mainstream media.
 
But unfortunately, salacious headlines and negligent reporting on violence against women isn't a thing of the past.
 
I recently came across an article in the "reputable" publication, theDaily Mail Australia.
 
 
This is a perfect example of the kind of complete misrepresentation of gendered violence that we often see in the mainstream media.
 
The headline completely removes the male perpetrator from the equation. Instead, we're made to focus on her job as a sex worker, as if that should somehow stop us from feeling compassion for her, or sorrow for her grieving family, her children.
 
To place shame on a murdered woman is reprehensible and unjust, and it has a far-reaching influence.
 
It's shame that makes a female victim, like my mum, question her actions – "Maybe I deserved it?', "Maybe I provoked him?", "Why didn't I leave earlier?"
 
Victim blaming, the use of sensationalist language and not reporting on the social context in which violence occurs, has a profound effect on shaping the public's understanding of and opinion on the issue.
 

Especially given we are living in an era of ubiquitous online news and social media, it's so incredibly important to make sure rigorous responsibility is always applied to reporting on violence against women and their children.

Tasma Walton is an Our Watch Ambassador and was a keynote speaker at the Our Watch Awards last night.


ABOUT THE OUR WATCH AWARDS:

Our Watch developed a national media awards scheme to recognise and reward excellence in reporting on violence against women, in particular reporting that highlights the drivers of this violence and what we as a society can do to stop it before it starts. The Our Watch Awards, now in its third year, is an initiative under the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022, and is funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services.

For more information about the awards, which are administered by The Walkley Foundation, please visit the Walkleys' Our Watch Awards page.For more information on Our Watch and resources for journalists, visit ourwatch.org.au.
 

MEDIA CONTACT:

Hannah Grant, Our Watch Media Manager, (03) 8692 9512, 0448 844 930 or hannah.grant@ourwatch.org.au