Teresa Parker, Head of Media Relations & Communications at Women’s Aid on reporting domestic abuse this International Women's Day
On International Women’s Day, I am asking you to take five minutes to think about how you report domestic abuse. Domestic abuse, which can affect anyone but is most frequently experienced by women, appears in the news on almost a daily basis. On average, three women are killed every fortnight by a current or former partner in the UK. Domestic abuse is more prevalent than any of us would want to imagine.
The way that journalists report domestic abuse does two things: firstly, it has an impact on the family, friends and community of the people involved. Secondly, it affects our societal understanding of domestic abuse. That means everyone – young people starting their first relationships, retired couples discussing the story over a cup of tea, police who will be knocking on the door when they have a report of a ‘domestic’ and the judges deciding how to apply sentencing guidelines. Do not underestimate the power of communication. The words you write sink into the subconscious shaping how we understand the world, process it and the opinions we hold. A headline about a man killing his partner can either use his words, providing a level of justification for his actions, or can focus on the woman and the life that has been lost.
We do not expect you to be a domestic abuse expert – we only ask you to listen to our feedback and consider guidance where it is offered. Often, it is coming from the perspective of survivors of domestic abuse, and families who have lost their mums, sisters or children. Your actions can make a huge difference to how we understand domestic abuse, and how victims are remembered.
I have written some guidance around best practice when reporting domestic abuse, which is designed to be quick to read and follow here. You can also find links to further media guidance produced by other charities, including specific guidance around reporting domestic homicide by We Level Up, on the IPSO website.
Recently I gave feedback to a national newspaper on a headline which platformed a social media post of a perpetrator of domestic homicide. The response was that they were satisfied that the article was IPSO compliant, but that wasn’t why I contacted them. Our guidance is best practice, and compliments the Code. It is not mandatory, but it is still vital to take on board–especially when thinking about your many readers who will have first-hand experience of what it is like to live in fear of an abusive partner.
We know the difference that the guidance can make. Last summer, I organised a learning session with survivors of domestic abuse with The Sun. Survivors shared their experience and feedback, and we went through some key points on responsible reporting. Before this session, I had worked with The Sun on powerful campaigns that helped to secure refuge funding, but in practice these campaigns had been developed with a journalist and editor we trusted. What has really changed, is that since the session last year and the guidance being shared widely, the whole team is now engaged and proactive in working towards best practice around domestic abuse reporting. This is encouraged throughout the newspaper, with strong leadership on why this is important. This means that feedback is listened to and taken seriously. Help and support is signposted too, and survivors are contacting our services because of it.
This month I will be running another learning session, this time with a team of international journalists working for a news agency. This work is a priority for us. I hope that this International Women’s Day, more editors and journalists will read the guidance, and reach out when you need support with this work.
We at Women's Aid will always help as much as we can.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or would like to find out more.