The Most Common Least Reported Violence

commentary by John McManus


            As many as 4 American women in 10 get beaten up at some time in their lives… by a current or former boyfriend or spouse. Three women a day are killed. Intimate violence goes hand-in-fist with child abuse. It rears children more prone to batter when they become adults. It boosts our insurance and hospital bills. Police costs are staggering. It’s the most frequent violent felony arrest in many cities.


            Yet, except at its murderous extreme, the news media all but ignore it. I know this because at the Berkeley Media Studies Group we just finished sampling a full year of crime stories published in the San Jose Mercury News and LA Times.


            Why is such a vast and corrosive problem swept under the rug?


            Some feminist scholars charge that reporters consider domestic violence a women’s issue, not as newsworthy as “real” crime. A reporter said it’s undercovered because the public doesn’t fear spousal abuse as much as random crime. And people don’t sympathize with victims caught in such relationships. It doesn’t sell papers.


            Most violence between intimates doesn’t trip today’s commercial standards of newsworthiness for crime¾not dramatic enough.


            Journalists need a wider lens. If a disease were sending millions to the hospital and killing thousands, the press wouldn’t consider covering every illness. But it would cover the epidemic. 


            Without news about the plague of battering, society goes unwarned. Politicians aren’t pressured to seek solutions. And this plague can be cured¾ with education of young men and women; with shelters and protection for victims; with strict rehabilitation programs for abusers.


            There’s no excuse for intimate violence. Nor for the media’s failure to cover it as the pervasive, but preventable threat to our public health that it is.


posted 2/19/03