Avoiding ‘Blaming the Victim’

 

            Some scholars have complained that the way news media report about violence against women makes battering appear appropriate, “deserved” or a “family matter” rather than a crime with very serious consequences for a society.

 

            Our study of the San Jose Mercury News and Los Angeles Times looked for the following inaccurate stereotypes in all stories about intimate partner violence:

 

 

 

           

We also looked for more subtle expressions of attitudes of male dominance, such as news accounts in which batterers’ names are withheld. Such stories may use the passive voice--”her skull was cracked”--rather than “he cracked her skull” to deflect blame from the assailant.

 

And we searched every story for words that partially excused men from responsibility. These portrayed battering as not about controlling a woman, but “snapping” or acting out of character because their love or passion for her overpowered their self-control.

 

The good news is that none of these distorted stereotypes appeared in more than a very few stories. And when they did, they were often challenged by other sources in the story.

 

It’s possible, of course, that our findings would have differed had we analyzed articles published in 1990 rather than 2000. Or had we looked at less prestigious news media, we would have found the sexist stereotypes scholars have described.

 

Nevertheless, there’s reason for celebration. Papers like the Merc and Times are looked up to and emulated by lesser organs of journalism. The model they set is influential.

 

And that’s very hopeful!