Every word counts in domestic violence reporting
This year, for DVAM, JWI is focusing on the media. Last week we issued an action alert asking our supporters to send letters to ten major newspapers across the country – calling on journalists to tell the whole story when reporting incidents of domestic violence.
Nobody has been more surprised by the response than we have: In one week, about 1,000 of these letters have been sent out through our website. A frustrated editor at the L.A. Times called our offices to complain about the 400 copies of this letter (and counting) personally forwarded to her by our supporters.
Reporting these crimes with accurate language is critical to the public’s understanding of domestic violence as a specific type of crime. Seventy-four percent of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner; yet, the phrase ‘domestic violence’ is rarely found in coverage of these incidents. Reporting an assault or murder as one episode in a pattern of abuse – not an isolated act of violence – is as relevant as where, when, how and to whom it happened.
Journalists’ inaccurate accounts – reports that blame the victims, or excuse abusers – reinforce myths and misunderstandings about domestic violence. All media coverage of intimate partner violence must do the following:
• Acknowledge that domestic violence is not a private matter
• Use accurate language – words like abuse; assault; rape
• Convey that domestic violence is a pattern of behavior that often escalates when a victim is trying to leave, or has left, the relationship
• Identify the act as a domestic violence crime and place the murder in the larger context of domestic violence murders locally and nationally
Does your newspaper report about incidents of domestic violence? Is the coverage accurate?
It is clear from the overwhelming response that we need to do more to educate journalists and to challenge the media to engage in balanced reporting. If you have not sent a letter to your newspaper, please take action.
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Restored funding saves some shelters; too late for others
On October 15th the California State Senate unanimously passed an emergency funding bill restoring $16.3 million in funds, enabling the 94 domestic violence shelters and hundreds of direct service providers to keep their doors open.
In July, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, faced with a severe budget deficit, used a line item veto to slash over $16 million in funds allocated to domestic violence organizations. Since then the Governor and California State Senators have been in a funding tug-of-war that finally reached a solution last week.
The emergency funding, while too late for six shelters, is a lifeline for many domestic violence organizations on the brink of closure. “In order to keep the remaining domestic violence shelters open, it is absolutely vital that the Governor immediately sign this bill into law,” said Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco). “Failure to do so will only result in increased health care, law enforcement and other costs to the state. But more critically, it puts victims of domestic violence and their children in grave danger.
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Health insurers want to deny coverage to victims of abuse
“Domestic violence is a public health issue,” Congressman Ted Poe told participants at last Wednesday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Violence Against Women. The other members of the committee nodded in agreement, but it is only recently that the relationship between domestic violence and women’s health has been included in the health care debate.
A widely supported provision of all five competing health care reform bills – banning insurance practices from charging higher premiums or denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions – has generated media attention because it will ensure that domestic violence survivors have access to health care.
Yes, domestic violence can be considered a pre-existing condition.
42 states have already passed legislation prohibiting this practice, but eight states (Idaho, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Wyoming) and the District of Colombia have no such law.
This practice, previously unknown by most states where it is still occurs, has been covered by CNN as a breaking news story and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi mentioned it during her weekly policy address as an egregious practice by insurance companies that must be stopped.
Oklahoma has decided to preempt federal legislation with state action. Three state senators – Senator Jim Wilson, Senator Eric Proctor, and Senator Randy Brogdon – are introducing legislation prohibiting insurance companies from viewing injuries by victims of domestic violence as pre-existing conditions. The bills will be voted on in the beginning of next year.
Activism at the state level is important and the remaining states should follow Oklahoma’s initiative. The greater problem, however, is the lack of oversight – women were denied access to health care because they had been a victim of a crime and everyone from health care providers to state legislators were unaware or unwillingly to close this loophole.
To find out more information about health care reform and how it will greatly improve the quality of care women receive, especially victims of violence, read JWI’s position statement Principles of Women’s Health Reform.
***Note: In May 2009, Arkansas passed legislation banning insurance practices that viewed domestic violence as a pre-existing condition***