Things to Avoid

things to avoid

Violence is always a choice by the perpetrator and the perpetrator is the only person to blame.


Passive coverage

Headlines like, ‘Woman raped’ can make it seem like violence is something that ‘just happens’ to women when in fact these crimes always have both a victim-survivor and a perpetrator.

Avoid words like ‘tragedy’ as these make it seem as if the violence was unavoidable instead of a conscious action from the perpetrator.

TIP: Make the perpetrator the subject of the sentence and assign the verb to them. This is also how police are encouraged to write their reports. e.g. ‘The perpetrator forced the survivor to…’


Sympathy for the perpetrator

In 2017, one story about a man raping a woman while she slept focused on how apologetic and remorseful he was afterwards and noted that he had attended sex addiction meetings.[i]

Framing it in this way prioritises the perpetrator's emotional turmoil over how his actions affected the victim-survivor. Instead consider how she is feeling.


Inappropriate use of humour

A national charity included in its magazine an article on Indian women forced through economic circumstances into prostitution which was headed, 'Anybody fancy an Indian?' This is racist, trivialises gender inequality and poverty-driven prostitution, and dehumanised the women involved.


Excuses for violence

Led to…

Try to avoid the narrative of how one life event ‘led to’ any violence that occurred.

Don’t Use: The loss of job and financial pressure led to murder; Husband murders wife after her affair.

Phrasing stories like this make it sound like violence is an obvious next step in response to these events. For most people this is not the case; lots of people lose their jobs or have an unfaithful partner and most do not turn to abuse and violence.

Job losses, financial pressures, and affairs are not the cause of violence against women - abusive men are.

Alcohol and Drugs

Women can experience violence when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol and when they are sober. Never make it sound like a woman’s choice to drink or take drugs led to violence.

Use: He stalked the woman on her way home and assaulted her.

Don’t use: She had several drinks then walked home alone and was assaulted.

Alcohol and drugs are not the cause of violence against women - abusive men are.

Just a one off

Be aware that seemingly one-off crimes may be part of a pattern of abuse, and that perpetrators may have engaged in a number of forms of violence against women.

Don’t write about instances of violence as if they are standalone incidents. Instead, situate them using statistics.

You don’t have to turn your article into an academic report - when reporting an incident you can give it context with a single sentence. E.g. ‘An incident of domestic abuse is reported to Police Scotland every 9 minutes’. (source)

Mental Health

One article suggested that a man murdered his ex-partner due to an ‘abnormality of mental function’.

Blaming poor mental health stigmatises those with mental health issues, the vast majority of whom do not perpetrate violence against women.

Mental health conditions are not the cause of violence against women - abusive men are.

Link with football

Although there is evidence suggesting a correlation between Old Firm matches and reports of domestic abuse, this should not be mistaken for causation. Football is not the cause of violence against women - abusive men are. (source).

Cycle of Violence

There is limited evidence that men who experience violence in their own childhoods may be more likely to go on to perpetrate violence.

Blaming current violence against women on experiences of violence in childhood stigmatises adults with adverse childhood experiences, most of whom do not turn to abuse and violence.

Crime of passion

Violence is a form of control, an assertion of dominance, not a loss of it. It is controlled, planned, and specific. It is often made to look like a loss of control, but it isn’t.

Sex game gone wrong

Legally, no one can consent to injury or death. Consider that even if a woman has agreed to an act, she may have been coerced into it by an abusive partner. “Sex games” do not kill women, abusive/violent men do.


Court reporting

Defence lawyers will use many of these excuses in court.

It is a journalist’s responsibility to give a fair account of what happened in the court room, but it is important to avoid using the narrative of the defence as the narrative of your story.

Don’t give it prominence in the story and phrase it accurately as ‘defence claims’. Include quotes from expert agencies who can give context to these claims.

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