Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence

Public Awareness

Media

OPDV Media Project

During the 2008-2009 academic year, OPDV worked with a team of students from New York University’s (NYU) Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service on a project related to media coverage of domestic violence in New York State. The goal of this project was to examine the print media’s recent coverage of domestic violence to determine if there were ways to support New York State journalists reporting on domestic violence to ensure the most accurate and comprehensive coverage.

Please click on each heading below for information relating to each topic.

Content Analysis

The project included a content analysis of almost 300 newspaper articles over a 3 year span. The articles were coded and some themes were identified:

  • Victim Blaming – This was defined as language that implied, directly or indirectly, that the victim was responsible in some way for the violence. Examples included references that the victim somehow provoked the abuser or that if she had left the relationship earlier, the incident would not have happened.
  • Mutuality – Closely related to victim blaming, this was defined as language that implied that both parties played an equal role in the violence. Examples include incidents described as a fight, dispute or argument between the two parties.
  • Trivializing language – This was defined as the use of casual or playful language, such as “hubby”, “gal pal” or “lover’s quarrel”.
  • Implied Attribution – This was defined as language that subtly legitimized or justified the abuser’s behavior by offering readers potential explanations for the violence, such as jealousy, a recent break-up or divorce, drug or alcohol use, and/or mental illness.
  • Pattern of Abuse vs. Isolated Incident – This was described as how the articles depicted a domestic violence incident: either as part of a pattern of violence or as an isolated, unexpected event.
  • Identification of Intimate Partners Delayed or Absent – This was defined as articles that either did not identify the people involved as intimate partners until late in the article, or never at all.

Sources

The content analysis examined the articles to determine who was used as the lead sources (the first source mentioned in an article) and the key sources (anyone quoted after the lead source in an article).

Police: Lead source in 68% of articles, key source in 34%

Court reports: Lead source in 20% of the articles, key source in 20% of the articles

Family: Lead source in 7% of the articles, key source in 30% of the articles

Domestic Violence Experts: Lead source in 5% of the articles, key source in 16% of the articles

Terminology

The project examined the articles to see how often the term “domestic violence” was actually used. They found that it was only used in 32% of articles and that most often, there was no terminology used to clearly establish the incident that took place as domestic violence. The breakdown of the terminology used is as follows:

  • 38% - No term or phrase that easily identified the story as domestic violence was used
  • 32% - Domestic Violence
  • 12% - Domestic Dispute
  • 8% - Domestic Incident
  • 6% - Jealous Rage
  • 4% - Domestic Abuse

Service Information

The content analysis revealed that only 3% of the articles examined contained information on where victims of domestic violence can get help.

Interviews

A small sampling of reporters, editors and domestic violence program directors were interviewed for this project. In general, all of them were committed to achieving better coverage of domestic violence, but many said they lack the time, resources, or tools to do so. Key points gleaned from the interviews include:

  • Reporters and editors said that it is powerful to include a quote from a former victim in their stories. They mentioned that it can help other victims see that they can escape abuse, too, and that it helps to personalize the issue for the reader.
  • Reporters and editors said that they would like to have tools to inform them on issues pertaining to domestic violence and contact information for domestic violence professionals that would be available to the media, especially after hours.
  • The domestic violence program directors said that they are rarely contacted as sources by the media.
  • The domestic violence program directors said that they feel media coverage of domestic violence should contain a component of educating the public, including using statistics in stories and using experts to put the incident into context within the larger framework of domestic violence.

Project Outcomes

This project resulted in OPDV developing tools to respond to the specific concerns raised, as well as the observations made through the content analysis. It uncovered important information and resulted in concrete ideas on ways to help support the New York State media reporting on domestic violence. Our thanks to the NYU Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service and the team of students who worked with us on this project.