Recommendations for Journalists Covering Domestic Violence and Gun Violence
Domestic violence is inextricably linked to gun violence. Every month, an average of 57 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner. Throughout the pandemic, calls to domestic violence shelters and hotlines went up, and a survey of domestic violence programs found that 50% of respondents reported that firearms threats had become a bigger problem during the pandemic, and 33% reported an increase in intimate partner homicides in their communities. However, these numbers do not tell the whole story of domestic violence in our country.
By covering this public health crisis, reporters can inform readers about life-saving resources and highlight policy solutions, but they should do so in a way that prioritizes survivors and victims. If your news organization decides to cover these tragedies, please consider following the advice below for journalists covering domestic violence.
The recommendations below are compiled from resources for journalists created by experts at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) and the Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence (NNADA).
- Acknowledge the full context of domestic violence. Reports often focus on an isolated instance of violence without noting the broader context of a pattern of abuse. This framing incorrectly suggests that physical abuse is the only aspect of domestic violence and that incidents are singular. It is critical that reporters:
- Identify patterns of abuse, which can include calls to law enforcement, public records of restraining orders, and other markers of an abusive relationship.
- Cover the incident within the larger scope of societal violence. It is important to note that domestic violence, similarly to gun violence, is a public health crisis.
- Recognize the systemic inequity that perpetuates a society where victims are often disbelieved and silenced and domestic violence is tolerated, particularly among marginalized victims.
- Avoid including commentary from individuals who may be unaware of how multifaceted domestic violence can appear to outsiders. External commentary on the character of abusers often minimizes violence and serves no purpose. Examples: “He seemed like such a great guy,” or “I had no idea.”
- Avoid treating instances of domestic violence and gun violence as unpredictable tragedies.
- Use a trauma informed approach when interviewing survivors of domestic violence. It’s important to keep in mind that survivors have experienced traumatic events and recounting those events can be challenging.
- Use accountability language when reporting on details of domestic violence incidents. Example: “He threatened her with violence multiple times,” vs “She was afraid of his threats.”
- Avoid using the term “estranged” without including additional context. The phrase can suggest that the individuals are no longer close, which does not acknowledge the role of the abuser.
- “Choking” vs “Strangulation” — choking occurs when a person’s airway is unintentionally obstructed. Strangulation is an intentional act by a perpetrator.
Additional recommendations for covering domestic violence are available here and here.
Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action, Students Demand Action advocate for common-sense laws that keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers to reduce gun violence and domestic violence. The crisis of domestic violence is closely linked to the widespread and growing use of guns by abusers. The deadly intersection of guns and domestic violence has a disproportionate impact on Black, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Latina women. Research shows that federal and state policies and practices that disrupt abusers’ access to guns can save lives.
Research shows over half of women killed by an intimate partner are killed with a gun. Nearly 1 million women alive today have reported being shot or shot at by intimate partners, and 4.5 million women have reported being threatened with a gun by an intimate partner. Access to a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that a woman will be killed.
Existing loopholes in federal and state law allow access to guns by abusive partners and stalkers, often with deadly results. Thankfully, there has been important movement on this issue. Since 2013, 29 states have passed legislation to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. And at the federal level, and this year the House of Representatives passed the bipartisan Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which would close the deadly dating partner and stalker loopholes.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, available 24/7, for confidential assistance from a trained advocate. You can also find more resources on how to get protection from firearms abuse at disarmdv.org and legal assistance in English and Spanish at WomensLaw.org.