20 Feb 2019

Victimizing violent men after break-ups

Being "brokenhearted"  is no excuse for violent behavior.

Lydia Morrish
Lydia Morrish NewsMavens, United Kingdom
Victimizing violent men after break-ups - NewsMavens
Flat tire, PixaBay

A man in County Limerick, Ireland, told a court that he broke the windscreen wipers and punctured four tires on the car of his former partner because he was upset about breaking up with her. Patrick Higgins, aged 47, pleaded guilty to two counts of criminal damage in light of the outburst that occured in May, 2018.

What is the claim?

The case was reported by the Limerick Leader, a local weekly Limerick newspaper. But the newspaper’s headline describes the scene in a very particular way:

Broken-hearted Limerick man breaks former partner’s car wipers and punctures tyres.

What are the facts?

The Limerick Leader prepositions its headline with “brokenhearted”, thus romanticizing his violent act. Presenting Higgins as a “heartbroken” man victimizes him from the get-go, showing him as a character the readers should empathize with.

The situation sounds much less romantic when considering the facts.

In the article, Sergeant Michelle Leahy is quoted saying that the €400 worth of damage to the victim’s car took place while Higgins was intoxicated:

“The injured party heard noise. She saw the defendant bent down by her car. Four tires were flat. There was a small hole in each of them. The two front windscreen wipers were bent out of shape,” said Leahy. He was also on “a lot of medication at the time”, according to the report.

The Sergeant appears to show compassion for the accused, which may be appropriate, given that no person is one-dimensional and completely violent. “He was upset with the injured party breaking up with him and apologizes,” he said. However, the headline in this case implies that the man had no agency and, induced by a broken heart, acted outside of his own will.

The headline asks the reader to sympathize with the perpetrator, disregarding the humanity of the real victim in the situation – Higgins’s former partner. Not only did she have to pay to have her car fixed, including purchasing four new tires, she has been the victim of a violent attack on her property by an ex-partner. This is a form of domestic abuse, and it could have had an even more devastating outcome.

This is not the first time newspapers and media organizations have romanticized violent behaviour or domestic abuse. It’s such an ongoing problem in some media organisations that Level Up, a feminist organization, published guidelines for editors in an attempt to tackle sexist headlines about domestic abuse.

Given that 90% of women murdered in Ireland were killed by someone they already knew, the press has a duty to report instances of domestic abuse and violence responsibly. This includes reporting about domestic abuse victims in a dignified way. If media reports depicted domestic violence attacks and deaths more accurately, the Level Up team says more deaths could be prevented.

Their guidelines state the need for sensitive reporting that is neither sensational or speculative, while emphasizing the importance of preserving the dignity of victims. They say headlines are particularly important given that they often dilute the responsibility of the perpetrator and simplify their motives using phrases associated with romantic clichés.


Since the Limerick Leader article reports true facts but the headline is skewed, we rate this particular wording as a trivialization of violence against women.


Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

The information and views set out on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

NewsMavens is a media start-up within Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest liberal broadsheet published by Agora S.A. NewsMavens is currently financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and Google DNI Fund.
Is something happening in your country that Newsmavens should cover?
Zuzanna Ziomecka
Zuzanna Ziomecka EDITOR IN CHIEF
Lea Berriault-Jauvin
Lea Berriault Managing Editor
Jessica Sirotin
Jessica Sirotin EDITOR
Ada Petriczko
Ada Petriczko EDITOR
Gazeta Wyborcza, Agora SA Czerska 8/10 00-732, Warsaw Poland
The e-mail addresses provided above are not intended for recruitment purposes. Messages concerning recruitment will be deleted immediately. Your personal data provided as part of your correspondence with Zuzanna,Lea, Jessica and Ada will be processed for the purpose of resolving the issue you contacted us about. The data provided in your email is controlled by Agora S.A. with its registered office in Warsaw Czerska 8/10 Street (00-732). You can find more information about the processing and protection of your personal data at https://newsmavens.com/transparency-policy