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Violence against women must be written large

July 13 2018 By Tarang Chawla, Our Watch Ambassador

According to reports, 34 Australian women have been murdered this year.

Our Watch Ambassador Tarang Chawla Image

In the past few days, a 69-year-old male carer has been charged with the murder of an elderly woman in the NSW Hunter region, and a woman in Raymond Terrace, NSW and two women in south-east Melbourne have also been allegedly killed by men they knew.

Because the media has published little about the circumstances of these unnamed women's deaths, the public’s outrage has been contained. 

I feel terrible for these women's families and the loss they have had to endure.

Unfortunately, I know this loss painfully well. 

Three years ago, my sister Nikita was murdered. She was 23. 

When a woman is abused or killed, the way the media reports it, and the way we then talk about it, is very important and powerful.

So much of the reporting around Niki’s murder focused on the colour of her skin or her cultural background. 

There were suggestions in the mainstream media that Niki’s death was an honour killing or that it was motivated by South Asian cultural norms.

I migrated to Australia from India with my parents in 1988. 

Niki was born here in Fitzroy in 1991, but none of that explains her death.

Reporting that puts the onus on women to be safe, focuses on ethnicity or the stress that the perpetrator was under has the effect of diminishing their responsibility for their crimes. 

We’ve already seen this pattern in the reporting of Eurydice Dixon’s alleged murder. 

To be clear, Niki’s death was a crime, a murder where one man chose to take the life of a woman. 

The media’s reporting of the crime was distressing, and the social media comments were worse. 

Hours after the news broke of Niki's murder, ill-informed opinions flourished online, with little knowledge of the facts.

While my parents and I sat in our family room, stricken with grief on a sofa with one empty seat, from behind the anonymity of their keyboards, strangers pointed the finger at my family. 

Someone said to me that she “got what she deserved”.

When women are murdered, we respond by thinking, “What did she do?”, and not “Why are men violent?”

There’s a long way to go for us to unlearn that. 

We need to talk about violence against women and children in context, to understand its extent and avoid falling into the trap of excusing or dismissing it.

When the media gets it wrong, as many did in relation to my sister’s murder, they cause more hurt to those left behind, as well as avoiding the problem of family violence.

I know there have been huge improvements in reporting on male violence and that there are many in the media who want to get this right and tell the real story, because it’s important that we acknowledge those who are getting it right, and encourage better reporting.

I urge journalists to enter the Our Watch media awards.

And if you have seen a considered example of responsible reporting of male violence, get in touch with the journalist and encourage them to enter. 

I hope that the awards challenge journalists to report respectfully, and with the knowledge that they play an integral role in shaping attitudes towards women.