Avoiding Domestic Violence Stereotypes


·        The primary question reporters ask is not why does he batter, but why does she stay? “We need to say to the batterer, you need to leave,” says Ms. Carter of the Family Violence Prevention Fund. “Instead we say she should leave.”

Asking why a battered woman doesn’t leave is naïve, according to reporter Guido: “Most domestic violence murders occur when a woman is preparing to leave, or just after a woman leaves. It’s very dangerous to leave the situation.”

·        If a battered woman doesn’t speak up for herself her side of the story is un- or under-reported. Says Lisa Breen Strickland, executive director of the Support Network for Battered Women in Mountain View: “The best story comes from those willing and able to talk. Most victims aren’t willing.”

“I’ve been doing this for 17 years,” she explains. “Only one or two current victims have spoken to the media. It’s just not safe. It’s all about power and control. If the victim is talking to the press, then [the batter has] totally lost control. We have trained many women who are former victims to give voice to a story their sisters can’t.”

Immigrant women are particularly vulnerable, says Ms. Carter. “With immigrant women there isn’t anyone else whom she [or the press] can talk to. Also there may be cultural barriers, fear of talking to the press or authorities, and language barriers, and lack of family supporting her.”

·        Stories about domestic violence rarely mention resources for victims, such as battered women’s shelters or hotlines, or programs for men who wish to overcome their urge to batter.

·        Solutions to the problem of spousal abuse are rarely reported. When they are they tend to involve intervention--getting her to safety, punishing him--rather than prevention.

"The underlying point is that we have to think about these things," Ms. Guido points out. On deadline there isn't time, "we have to think about them in advance."

There is some good news. "Seventeen years ago domestic violence didn't get reported in newspapers at all, unless it was the most horrific cases," says Ms. Strickland. "So we've come a tremendous distance. Overall, I think reporting has improved as our social norms have changed."


Useful Sources

In the Bay Area

·        Janet Carter, managing director of the Family Violence Prevention Fund, in San Francisco. 415-252-8900.

·        Rolanda Pierre-Dixon Esq., team leader for the Domestic Violence Unit, Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office. 408-792-2533.

·        Lisa Breen Strickland, executive director, Support Network for Battered Women, in Mountain View. 650-940-7850.

Nationally (from Covering Criminal Justice, Center on Crime, Communities and Culture and the Columbia Journalism Review)

·        Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell, Associate Dean for Doctoral Education Programs and Research, Johns Hopkins university School of Nursing. Baltimore, MD. 410-955-2778.

·        Holly Maguigan, New York University Law School. New York City. 212-998-6433.

·        National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Denver, CO, 303-839-1852.

·        National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control. Atlanta, Georgia. 770-488-4902.