Sunday, October 19, 2008

media portrayals of domestic violence & this is not about facebook

"Man who killed wife over Facebook posting jailed for life"
Having lived in two societies where violence against women is much highlighted and railed against in the media, I am acutely aware of how public perception of domestic violence can be shaped (wittingly or unwittingly) by media accounts.

The story of a man who was recently sentenced to years of imprisonment for the murder of his estranged wife after his having been allegedly humiliated by her on a social networking site, caught my attention not only for the horribleness of what had occurred, but also in so far as the way in which it had been written up. To me, the write-up is problematic on a number of levels:

I find the descriptions of the violence entirely gratuitous. Would it have not been sufficient to say that the attacker had been fuelled by alcohol and cocaine? Any adult can infer that the consequences of violence fuelled in this way would be entirely brutal. Enough said. Why elaborate further on the detail? What is problematic here is that it makes the grotesque the norm. In a manner similar to the ways in which the intricate details of suicides are not published, so too the intricate details on violence against women need not be published and popularised in this way.

Even though the couple had been separated, the news story is not suffused with this fact. It refers throughout to the victim as "wife" rather than "estranged wife". My claim is that this trivializes the separation somehow, as a mere trifle, as something transitory. And this image is problematic in so far as it perpetuates a certain unsympathetic view of women (or men) who leave partnerships, and struggle to be taken seriously in their efforts.

Further, I see this news story as representative of yet one more instantiation of the "this is what happens when you go out on the Net" kind of scare story. The fact here that the victim had used a social networking site is circumstancial, and should hardly be read (nor implicitly flagged) as harbinger of the dangers of life online.

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