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A murderer, yes, but a really good person

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From Sian and Crooked Rib.

How does the media report murders of women?

Hot on the heels of the Daily Mail re-branding stalking as romance, the BBC report today that tributes are being paid to a man who shot his wife before killing himself.

I honestly cannot think of another situation where tributes would be paid to a man who committed a violent crime.

The police describe how the man, who was the leader of the council, shot his wife and then himself. But this doesn’t seem to be the news story. The news story instead is about the tributes made by councillors, colleagues and neighbours to the man who:

“typified what’s good about the town and the district of North Norfolk.”

It’s a story about how the flag on the council building is flying at half mast, how despite ‘being from different parties’ he was ‘always very good to deal with’, how he was a ‘good public servant’ who was ‘respected across the political spectrum’. No-where is it really mentioned that by shooting his wife, this pillar of the community murdered a woman.

Because that is what just happened. There’s nothing in the article to suggest suicide pact or complicity. He shot his wife. I don’t know why, I don’t care why, I don’t know if there was a history of domestic abuse. What we do know is he shot his wife before killing himself.

It seems to me that it’s only in the case of domestic abuse when the news coverage bends over backwards to talk about the perpetrator as really a good person. It seems that it’s only when crimes are committed against women does the media try to mitigate it by assuring us that – apart from in his relations to his wife – the man with the gun was a ‘good guy’. I think it happens because it’s simply too terrifying to face the fact that twice a week, men murder a current or ex partner. That at least two men a week are killing women.

It reminds me of the man who killed his wife and only got eighteen months because his actions were ‘out of character’ and he led a ‘respectable and successful life’. The deaths of the women became subordinate to the story of the man. And make no mistake, it’s this kind of reporting, that diminishes blame for a violent crime against women, that then has an impact on juries finding violent men guilty, on judges handing out sentences to men who kill their wives. This has a real impact. Every time a man is violent to a woman, and the media reports it as a crime of passion, of jealousy, or a retaliation because ‘she took his kids’ or ‘she left him’, then that media is victim blaming, and it’s a victim blaming culture that means we have a 6.5% conviction rate for rape, for example. The way the media reports violence against women matters. It has an impact on all of us women.

Today’s story is a tragic one. As before with the stalker, any death is awful and of course those who knew him are devastated. But it’s a tragedy that involves her death as well, and what this reporting does is just focus on how he was a “good guy”. Her death and her life just does not seem to be considered in this article at all.

On the Yahoo report of the story one of the commenters says:

“Probably another domestic incident gone wrong.”

It’s a telling comment. It’s not murder, it’s a domestic incident gone wrong. That’s how this story can so easily be re-framed, to be one about how tributes are being paid to a man who shot his wife and then killed himself. It’s just another example of how our culture refuses to acknowledge what violence against women and girls looks like.

This year, according to the OneinFour Twitter feed, 104 have lost their lives as a result of gender based violence.

If you can, please make a donation to WomensAid and Refuge, so no more women lose their lives to men.

Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247

Sian Norris is a Bristol-based writer and feminist activist. She co-ordinates the Bristol Feminist Network and runs a successful blog, sianandcrookedrib. She has written for a range of blogs, newspapers, magazines and websites, including the Guardian and the F Word, as well as presented at a variety of feminist academic conferences. She recently published an anthology of experiences of becoming a feminist ‘The Light Bulb Moment’ and her children’s book, Greta & Boris: A Daring Rescue is due to be published in 2013. In her day job, she’s an advertising copywriter for a range of charity clients.

  1. vicki wharton says:

    This is the nub of the matter, 40 years after equal rights legislation females are still 2nd class beings in their own country. Even when murdered, the end of their lives are of no interest, they barely register a mention. My daughter is being beaten up at school regularly by 5 to 8 boys and its has taken me eight weeks of visiting the school on a weekly or bi weekly basis to get any action. Yesterday, I took in a male friend, suddenly cups of tea were laid on and my daughter became visible. She is 6 years old and that’s how invisible she was to her own teachers.

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