In Argentina, an organization of over 100 journalists has drawn up a set of ten “commandments” for writing about gender-based violence. It’s an interesting idea, and as someone who’s obsessed with how the media covers violence against women, I think it’s also a really necessary one.
Here are the rules:
1. The following terms are correct usage: violence against women, gender-based violence and sexist violence.
2. Gender-based violence is a crime insofar as it is illegal behaviour that must be prevented and punished, a social problem, an assault on the right to life, dignity, and physical and psychological integrity of women, and an issue that concerns the defence of human rights.
3. We will uproot from our work the term “crime of passion” to refer to murders of women who are victims of gender violence. Crimes of passion do not exist.
4. It is of the utmost importance to protect the identity of the victim, rather than that of the aggressor. Make it clear who is the aggressor and who is the victim, and indicate what attitudes and situations may put women in violent relationships at risk, to help raise their awareness about their situation.
5. Some information can harm the victims and their families. It is not always a good idea to identify the victim. It is offensive to refer to victims by diminutives, short forms of proper names, nicknames, and so on.
6. We will never look for justifications or “motives” (alcohol, drugs, arguments, jealousy, a couple’s separation, infidelity, and so on) that only distract attention from the central issue: violence. The cause of gender-based violence is the control and domination that certain men exercise over women.
7. It is essential to check the facts, especially from official sources.
8. Keep the subject on the agenda by denouncing violence in all its forms: psychological, economic, and emotional, without waiting for women to be killed. Tell the story taking into account the uniqueness of each event, but also the elements that each has in common with other cases. This will help us avoid the use of expressions like “once again” or “yet another case of,” and prevent a dulling of sensitivities.
9. Be particularly careful with the photographs and images illustrating the article. Respect the victims and their families, and avoid sexism, sensationalism and obscenity. Never steal images or audio material from a victim. When using a musical background, do not select motifs that inspire terror, or lyrics that talk about “love-sickness” or jealousy.
10. Our articles will always include a free telephone helpline number for victims, and any other information that may be useful for them.
What would you add? Personally, my number one priority would be to do away with the use of the word “sex” to describe rape — particularly the rape of a child. (I’ve seen the word “sex” used in the context of rapes committed against children as young as four-years-old, from mainstream news sources like the New York Times.) I’d also love to correct the “invisible rapist” phenomenon, where it’s constantly reported that “a woman was raped” without alluding to any sort of assailant. It is, however, possible that this problem is covered in point four above.
Have at it, readers — what do you think of the idea and rules themselves, and what do you think is missing from the list?
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