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  1. joe
    joe October 27, 2008 at 3:13 pm |

    I think these a generally good journalistic principles. A couple points, though.

    Re: 3, I think crime of passion is a technical legal term, is it not?

    Re: 6, what is wrong with journalists looking for motives? Everyone who commits a crime, however horrendous the crime, does so for a reason. Shouldn’t that reason be part of the story?

  2. Josh
    Josh October 27, 2008 at 3:59 pm |

    Re: #9, Shouldn’t that go for all journalism – about gender-related issues and not?

    And for #5, I understand where they’re coming from on that, however I’ve also seen perfectly sympathetic portraits of victims that have included some of this information.

  3. Natacha
    Natacha October 27, 2008 at 4:09 pm |

    This makes me think of all the romanticizing of so-called “crimes of passion” throughout Western literature… pretty sick, when you think about it.

    Here’s Wikipedia’s definition:
    A crime of passion, in popular usage, refers to a crime in which the perpetrator commits a crime, especially assault or murder, against a spouse or other loved one because of sudden strong impulse such as a jealous rage or heartbreak rather than as a premeditated crime. A typical crime of passion, for example, might involve a husband who discovers his wife has made him a cuckold and proceeds to brutally batter or even kill his wife or the man with whom she was involved. It is important to note that women are also capable of such violent behaviour e.g. Ruth Ellis.

    In some countries, notably France, crime passionnel (or crime of passion) was a valid defense during murder cases; during the 19th century, some cases could be a custodial sentence for two years for the murderer, while the spouse was dead; this ended in France as the Napoleonic code was updated in the 1970s so that a specific father’s authority upon his whole family was over.

    IE, most perpetrators of domestic violence (if not all) benefited from extenuating circumstances.

    And Wikipedia suggests that we also see “Honor Killings.”

  4. Ali
    Ali October 27, 2008 at 4:42 pm |

    “Crimes of passion do not exist.”

    I really, really like that statement.

  5. sophonisba
    sophonisba October 27, 2008 at 5:44 pm |

    (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.)

    And used in the context of rapes committed against women well over the age of consent, too, I imagine. Unless you doubt that grown women really are raped, and I am sure you don’t, there’s no reason to be more forgiving of offensive terminology in those cases just because rape of women is sexier to the masses than rape of children is. That is exactly the messed-up worldview that creates these terminology lapses in the first place.

    Rape is rape–it doesn’t somehow start greying into sex once the victim hits puberty. You can’t defend children by cordoning them off from women as a class, because the brighter misogynists among us will always notice that an awful lot of children are just women-in-waiting.

  6. Billie
    Billie October 27, 2008 at 6:22 pm |

    One thing that struck me was the assumption that only men commit acts of violence against women. The goal of the 10 rules is laudable, but the use of “men” and “women” makes domestic violence committed against men, between same sex couples, or acts committed against trans people invisible.

  7. Rebecca
    Rebecca October 27, 2008 at 8:15 pm |

    Joe – #6 is a worth goal because your spouse’s infidelity is not a reason to kill her. Being drunk is not a reason to kill her. Having an argument is not a reason to kill her. Those are circumstances, not, from a journalistic standpoint, justifications.

    There’s a difference between reporting “this was the reason he gave for killing her” and “this is a legitimate reason to kill someone.”

  8. Nicole
    Nicole October 27, 2008 at 8:34 pm |

    This list is awesome. When are United States journalists going to start using it?

  9. erin
    erin October 27, 2008 at 9:32 pm |

    Denying that crimes of passion exist doesn’t in any way help those who are the victims of them. Refusing to print all the facts of a crime (or any situation for that matter), including potential motives as they are given, is irresponsible journalism.

    Also, it’s crucial to distinguish between statutory and non-statutory rape. Labelling consensual sexual activities the same way you label violent, despicable crimes blurs the line is a way that is extremely dangerous to both.

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  11. Merryn
    Merryn October 27, 2008 at 11:40 pm |

    Sophonisba, making a special point of the use of “sex” rather that “rape” when children are involved is important, because under the law in most places in the case of rape of an adult consent is at issue. But in the case of a child, it is not. So “sex” with a child is always legally rape, but “sex” with an adult person could acutally be “sex” rather than “rape”.

  12. KMTBerry
    KMTBerry October 28, 2008 at 4:04 am |

    I would really REALLY like, indeed, I CRAVE, the American Media taking a similarly principled stance.

    How can we make it more likely? Maybe by inundating news sources with emails of this?

    Hey. maybe if Obama wins, he can make Suzie Madrak the editor of the New York TImes. I wish!

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  14. jodi
    jodi October 28, 2008 at 9:55 am |

    This could be implied in #5 but it would be nice to see it more clearly stated: that it is offensive to refer to a victim by the name of her profession in a headline, something that only seems to happen when the victim’s profession is remotely connected to sexuality or representation (ie “prostitute murdered” or “model raped”). I see this a lot in Canadian and U.S. reporting and it seems like further objectification of a victim, or a subtle form of victim-blaming.

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  16. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers October 28, 2008 at 11:39 am |

    Denying that crimes of passion exist doesn’t in any way help those who are the victims of them.

    Well, if you simply called them “crimes” and didn’t add on “of passion”, you would not be automatically exonerating/making understandable the crime.

    “Crime of passion” implies that the person was so emotional they just couldn’t help committing the crime, and you’d do the same if it were you. “Crime” conveys the necessary information without the exoneration thrown in.

    Labelling consensual sexual activities the same way you label violent, despicable crimes blurs the line is a way that is extremely dangerous to both.

    Well, since we don’t have different words for “He jumped out of the bushes and forced me at knifepoint”, “I was too drunk to move and he climbed on top of me and just did it”, “I was too scared to say no after his buddy had already raped me so I said yes even though I didn’t want to”, and “I totally nailed my hot teacher, and I’m only in the 6th grade! SCORE!”, we kind of have to call them all rape. I can see your point that when a young person *does* have sex that they wanted and agreed to with an adult, it’s not nearly the violation that being forced against your will is. But the reason we have age of consent laws is that it’s really easy for an adult to coerce a child in ways that can make the child think they *did* agree to it and therefore any consequences are their fault. And, in fact, studies have shown that even boys who had sex they agreed to with adult women, who reported that they enjoyed the experience and did not suffer damage from it, have worse outcomes in terms of the stability of their future relationships and their likelihood to become involved in crime than boys who were not preyed on. So if the situation our culture is *most* likely to consider genuinely “consensual” when below the age of consent — male teen/adult women — causes damage, I think we need to recognize that all such relationships have potential to cause a lot of damage.

    One thing that struck me was the assumption that only men commit acts of violence against women. The goal of the 10 rules is laudable, but the use of “men” and “women” makes domestic violence committed against men, between same sex couples, or acts committed against trans people invisible.

    I agree with this but Spanish is a gendered language; if this is a translation, it had to be done that way in Spanish because as soon as you include males, females disappear. The word for “them, male” and “them, mixed sex” is ellos; “them, female” is ellas. Given that the majority of domestic violence crimes are male on female, the original Spanish writers may have chosen to make the “feminine encompass the masculine” and use the female them for the victims, and then in translation that would come across as men and women.

    Other than that I agree with you. I remember when Phil Hartmann was murdered by his wife in a suicide/murder there was a lot of discussion of how she was mentally ill and how tragic it was and how he had tried to help her. There was mention of her being violent to him in the past, but *none* of the stories used domestic violence as a description or talked about spousal murder/suicide as anything other than a special tragedy. The same thing happens with murder/suicides when the man kills the woman and then himself; it’s as if killing yourself absolves you of being blamed for the fact that you just killed an innocent person you supposedly loved who didn’t want to die. If there is a news item where a male celebrity was murdered by his wife who had previously been physically violent to him, I want to hear discussion of DV… it isn’t *solely* a male-on-female problem (in fact the proportion of victims of seriously injuring DV who are male is about the same as the proportion of African-Americans in the population, and much higher than the proportion of gays… in other words, *not* a fraction that should be invisible or marginalized.)

  17. Rae
    Rae October 28, 2008 at 3:30 pm |

    Agreed re: taking out “sex” as a euphemism for rape and not portraying children as–legally or ethically–capable of informed consent to sex. I’d go a step further and encourage the use of “sexual assault” in lieu of “rape,” since it goes that much further to establish what has happened as a violent crime (especially in a culture where “rape” gets thrown around WAY the hell too casually as a euphemism for consensually rough sex).

  18. erin
    erin October 28, 2008 at 4:22 pm |

    Calling something a crime of passion in no way exonerates anyone, nor does it mean the person using the term is automatically saying he or she would do the same thing. This is exactly the kind generalization and conflating of terms that leads to a term like “crime of passion” behind used to connote something excusable. By definition, it does not.

    Recognizing that certain types of relationships have more potential to cause furture problems is necessary, I agree. But rape and potentially-harmful sex are not the same thing and should not be treated as such. Multiple problems require multiple solutions.

  19. Rae
    Rae October 28, 2008 at 4:43 pm |

    It does???? I’ve heard the word rape be used as a euphemism for a lot of things, but consensual sex isn’t one of them.

    Might be availability heuristic, or the fact that each of the times I’ve seen it used that way left me reeling, but I know I’ve stumbled across it more than once.

  20. Rae
    Rae October 28, 2008 at 7:23 pm |

    One more, although this might also fall under #6–avoiding using diminutives to refer to the crimes as well as the victims. Terms like “MySpace / Facebook Murder” take the focus away from where it belongs and use cutesy catchphrase sensationalism to diminish the impact and importance of the violence being described.

  21. erin
    erin October 29, 2008 at 12:07 am |

    “Crime of passion” is not a biased term. Trying to make it into one is only going to limit description of a crime and clear presentation of facts of a case. Paring down the list of acceptable terms available to journalists is only going to make it harder to present clear, unbiased reporting.

    You pointed out exactly the reason there needs to be a distinction between rape and sex with minors. Some minors are capable of consenting to sex. Four-year-old children are not. Therefore a distinction in terms needs to be made. Both Cara and Alara are oversimplifying in refusing to make that distinction. Again, dangerous for everyone.

  22. erin
    erin October 29, 2008 at 11:45 am |

    The phrase is a way to help describe the circumstances of a crime. It differentiates between crimes that are premeditated and crimes that are not. Correct me if I’m wrong, but as far as I know, there are no distinctions between first and second degree with regard to rape. There needs to be some other way to accurately reflect situations.

    The definition of balanced reporting is to present all sides and all circumstances to create the most complete picture possible. No problem can be solved if all the facts are not clear and open. And that, I presume, is your goal as well as mine.

  23. Jill
    Jill October 29, 2008 at 11:52 am | *

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but as far as I know, there are no distinctions between first and second degree with regard to rape.

    You’re wrong.

  24. erin
    erin October 29, 2008 at 12:10 pm |

    Pay attention before you make acusations. As I said before, passion is not an excuse, nor did I ever say it was. It is a fact however you choose to interpret the word fact.

    And if you don’t have time for me then stop responding. It’s very simple.

    Jill, please elaborate.

  25. Jill
    Jill October 29, 2008 at 12:19 pm | *


    In most places (the law does differ from state to state and I can’t say that I know the details of every single district), there are aggravating factors for rape, just like every other crime. Typical aggravating factors are use of a weapon, premeditation, etc etc. So if you put a gun to someone’s head and then rape them, that’s more serious, just like armed robbery is more serious than unarmed robbery.

    I’m also confused as to what you mean by a “crime of passion” with regard to rape. Can you explain a situation that you would qualify as rape-as-a-crime-of-passion?

    And “crime of passion” is actually a very biased term. It’s not a technical legal term, although it is used by lawyers to qualify certain situations when asking for sentencing leniency. It is a term that assigns a forgiveable motive to a perpetrator. And, in my opinion, it’s highly irresponsible for the media to use it, because it’s not up to them to assign motive. They should be able to give the circumstances of a crime without using terms that imply justification. For example, you can say that a man killed his wife and her lover, and you can do that without using the “crime of passion” terminology.

    I’ve never heard rape described as a crime of passion, legally or otherwise, which is why I’m confused.

  26. erin
    erin October 29, 2008 at 1:05 pm |

    What I meant by degree was that the difference comes in the sentencing, like you said, as opposed to in the charge where, for example, murder is qualified as first- or second-degree in the charge. I know laws in Canada aren’t exactly the same but the idea is. Thanks for clarifying. I take your point.

    I think it’s a useful terms when used in conjunction with concrete descriptions to prevent readers getting lost in legal jargon and to make the reporting a crime more accessible. I don’t see it as inherently biased because, in and of itself, it doesn’t assign forgiveness; it describes circumstances. It’s not up to the media to assign motive but it is up to the media to report any given motives and any accusations/defences made.

    I don’t want the argument to get weighed down by semantics. My biggest issue and my reason for posting in the first place is that saying rape committed on the spur of the moment (driven by anger or drunkeness or perceived personal injury such as infidelity, which is how I define crime of passion) doesn’t exist is a useless and extremely dangerous thing to say. If you think crime of passion isn’t the best way to describe those circumstances, that’s fair. I just disagree.

  27. dananddanica
    dananddanica October 29, 2008 at 2:58 pm |

    “Crime of passion” is something that makes sense to me and I can also understand its use to, with other things, differentiate between a premeditated crime and one that was not. Where I fail to understand you Erin is that I don’t see how rape could be a crime of passion. I could see me walking in on someone raping my wife and me killing them being a crime of passion but perhaps when i hear the phrase i pretty much only think of momentary crimes. Thats where my understanding of what youre saying fails me. I know its not the same thing but crimes of passion (driven by anger or ..etc) to me preclude rape just as much as bank robbery.

    Also I think billie upthread had a really good point and one that doesnt receive the attention it should as it almost seems, and I know this isnt the case but i get the feeling sometimes, that if it isnt male on female intimate partner/family violence it doesnt really “count”.

  28. Rebecca
    Rebecca October 29, 2008 at 3:45 pm |

    I think the idea of the word rape being used instead of, say, “forced sex,” reflects a discomfort about the word itself, and also that we as a society are confused about consent (obviously). It seems that for something to be rape, a stranger has to trap a virtuous woman and hold her down as she struggles and screams. But if a man visits a 13-year-old “prostitute” who is under the control of a pimp, somehow suddenly it’s “sex,” even though the girl is too young to consent and not operating with agency.

    Joe: I agree that every rapist has a motive. However, the motives are often described, subtly or overtly, as something that is actually incidental, rather than a true motive. The true motives men have for raping women (they hate them, need someone to dominate, etc) are rarely mentioned.
    Recently I emailed a local journalist who was covering a rape trial. While describing the assault, he casually wrote that the man “bought the woman drinks” prior to the assault. I wanted to know why this detail was necessary to report, since it seemed to imply that maybe she “owed” him something. He didn’t agree, saying that he was only reporting the facts of the case and the timeline.

  29. Rebecca
    Rebecca October 29, 2008 at 3:46 pm |

    In my comment I should have had quotes around “virtuous”, didn’t mean to imply that a child prostitute is “less virtuous” than a non-child-prostitute.

  30. Rebecca
    Rebecca October 29, 2008 at 4:48 pm |

    Rebecca: Hi! We ought to figure out a way of distinguishing ourselves.

  31. Rebecca_J
    Rebecca_J October 29, 2008 at 7:37 pm |

    Oops, sorry. I’ll post as Rebecca_J from now on.

  32. Rebecca
    Rebecca October 30, 2008 at 5:27 pm |

    Thanks much. (A while back there was a Rebecca arguing on a few posts against reproductive rights and such, so I went as liberal!Rebecca for a while, but obviously that is no longer appropriate.)

  33. pla
    pla November 2, 2008 at 5:35 pm |

    The problem here seems to be that people are forgetting that “passion” can have multiple meanings (everyone get out your OEDs). It can mean a romantic sort of passion, or a passion for your job, hobby, sports team, pet cause, etc. But, it can also refer to strong emotions generally. It’s a bit archaic, but I should think most people who hear the phrase “crime of passion” realize it has nothing to do with love; it has to do with being overcome with strong emotions.

    It’s a bit more than a premeditated/non-premeditated distinction. Many non-premeditated crimes are not crimes of passion, such as a murder resulting from a botched robbery, or an assault committed while drunk, or any crime of recklessness or negligence. I also want to note that “crime of passion” is not a complete defense in the US. Instead, it tends to mitigate a murder charge down to voluntary manslaughter (which we still send people to jail for a very long time for).

    Finally, I think it very misguided to ignore the reasons gender-based violence occurs. It is extremely difficult to fight a problem without discussing the causes of it. And yes, sometimes discussing the cause might make the offender seem a little less evil. But you know what? Not all criminals are equally evil. A man who plots to murder someone is a whole lot worse than one who kills someone while in a sudden fit of rage (but even this guy is still pretty bad). I’d like to know if they use the same standard for when a battered woman kills her husband. Should we also ignore her motive? How about reporting the facts (all of them) and letting the public reach their own conclusions?

    This list really just needed one rule: Be aware that the framing of an issue and the language used may reinforce particularly harmful norms.

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