Intimate partner violence(IPV, often called Domestic Violence)is any form of violence (physical, psychological, sexual) committed by legally married, separated, divorced, common-law, dating and other intimate partners. Intimate partner violence occurs in heterosexual and same-sex relationships and among men, women and trans people. However, the most common perpetrators of police-reported violence against women are their current or former male intimate partners. (1)
What you need to know
Intimate partner violence is more than the story of one family or one incident; it is part of a bigger issue in society. Each story of violence—often a homicide or murder-suicide if it receives media attention—is an opportunity to provide information and to resist stereotypes, even if you are on deadline. Here are some suggestions to help you with your reporting on incidents involving IPV:
The following tips are inspired and drawn with permission from The Rhode Island Coalition to End Violence Against Women’s Telling the Full Story: An Online Guide for Journalists Covering Domestic Violence .
Seek to Educate
Help answer common questions: Many people are unaware that women are at the highest risk of lethal violence when leaving abusive partners, and unsure of what they can do if someone in their lives is experiencing violence. Your story can help people identify and address violence in their own lives. Questions to ask:
- What are some of the warning signs of escalating abuse?
- How does violence in the home affect children?
- Why is it difficult for those experiencing violence to leave safely?
- Where can people go for help?
Provide insight into intimate partner violence by going to experts: Intimate partner violence is more than a single incident. It is usually part of a pattern of escalating abuse, power and control that puts more vulnerable family members—particularly women, children and elders—at risk. Advocates, service providers and researchers can help to provide context to this side of your story. Including survivors as experts is also valuable, but it should be done respectfully and only if they are interested in participating in an interview.
Interviewing Survivors, Friends, Family and Acquaintances
Talking to survivors – read Femifesto’s tips on interviewing survivors for more guidance on conducting safe and sensitive interviews.
If talking to friends, neighbours, co-workers of a survivor/victim, paint a holistic picture of the survivor/victim. Do the same when you are reporting on how to prevent future violence. Witnesses’ responses and reactions may include denial and a lack of knowledge about the situation. Typical answers are:
- “These things don't happen around here”
- “They seemed like a happy couple”
- Rather than asking about the incident of violence, ask them questions, such as:
- What contribution did the victim make to your life?
- What did he/she mean to you?
- What might prevent this from happening again?
For more guidance read OCTEVAW’s Questions for Victims’ Families and Friends.
Avoid quoting distant acquaintances. It can be hard to get a comment, but quoting those who do not know the family can be misleading and harmful. It also does not add information or facts to your story. These comments tend to reinforce popular myths about intimate partner homicides, namely that they are random, unpredictable acts.
Ask the Right Questions
Ask questions about an existing history of intimate partner violence. A majority of intimate partner homicides occur after escalating violent behaviour. Yet intimate partner violence, especially cases of murder-suicide, are often treated as private tragedies rather than preventable social problems. This is especially true when children are also killed. Interview experts, family, co-workers and friends to ask about warning signs and how the community and social institutions could have responded differently. Potential questions include:
- Was there a pattern of control in their relationship?
- Did you see signs of intimidation and/or violence?
Balance Your Story
Be careful with emotionally involved sources close to the perpetrator. The perpetrator's grieving family and friends may try to excuse the inexcusable and describe the aggressor only as a good and caring person. Consider balancing this with expert opinion, as it is common for perpetrators of intimate partner violence to project a non-violent image outside of their relationship with the victim/survivor.
See Isabelle Côté and Simon Lapierre’s article describing this discourse of the ‘good guys’ (in French).
Focus on the following instead of the victim’s perceived faults or actions.
- The perpetrator's actions
- How abuse is a systemic or historical problem
Intimate partner homicides and other violence are not caused by something the victim did or did not do. Instead, they are part of a larger and more complex pattern of power, control and systems of inequality in society.
Choose your words carefully
Use language that accurately portrays the homicide. (2) Avoid words and expressions that imply that the accused was in a state of such passion, rage, or jealous desperation that they could not have intended to kill the victim, and, therefore, should not be held fully accountable. Studies have shown that intimate partner homicides, more often than other homicides, include elements of premeditation and are therefore not something that happens out of the blue. (3). Examples of such expressions include:
- “Lost it”
- “In the heat of the moment”
- “Crime of passion”
Be respectful. These are real people’s lives. Nobody wants to be the target of sensationalist language or have their story exploited for dramatic effect. These events can be intense and shocking, and they do not need to be exaggerated.
Use research to tell your story
Put the violence in context with data: People may be surprised by stories of intimate partner violence, but it is still widely present in Canadian society. IPV is not limited to any class, religion or racialized community. Social inequalities impact individuals in a variety of ways and mean that some groups, such as Aboriginal women and girls, experience disproportionately high rates of violence, including intimate partner violence. Use data from local police or other sources to demonstrate how prevalent the problem is, and to tell a more complete story.
- 1) Statistics Canada (2013).
- 2) Fairbairn, J. (2008).
- 3) Dawson, M. (2006).
Works Cited & Consulted
- Dawson, M. (2006). Intimacy and violence: Exploring the role of victim-defendant relationship in criminal law. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 96(4). Retrieved from http://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article...
- Fairbairn, Jordan. (2008). “I loved her…I killed her”: The construction of intimate partner homicide in Canadian print media. (Master’s thesis, University of Guelph).
- Fairbairn, Jordan and Myrna Dawson (2013). “Canadian news coverage of intimate partner homicide: Analyzing changes over time.” Feminist Criminology 8(3): 147-176.
- Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence. (2012). Telling the full story: An online guide for journalists covering domestic violence. Retrieved from http://dvonlineguide.org/en/
- Statistics Canada. (2013). Measuring violence against women: Statistical trends. Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2013001/article/11766/11766-1-eng.htm