FEMFACTS
16 Dec 2018

New Caledonia daily newspaper puts arguing on a par with murder 

Murder is murder. If the victim and the killer were married, it’s not any less of a violent act. Yet, media reports still continue to look for “reasons” and justifications for these crimes.

Sara Saidi
Sara Saidi NewsMavens, France
New Caledonia daily newspaper puts arguing on a  par with murder  - NewsMavens
Man, PixaBay

Reacting to our analysis of media reports on gender-based violence in Malta, one of our readers mentioned seeing a French article about a woman who was stabbed to death by her husband. She wrote that the murder was described as the husband’s reaction to the woman’s “whining”.

We asked for more details and received a link to the original article -- and we went to take a look.  

WHAT ARE THE CLAIMS?

On November 14, 2018, a daily newspaper from New Caledonia, Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes (News of New Caledonia) stated:

Women Stabbed in Vallée-des-Colons: The husband could no longer stand the remarks of his spouse, which he found insulting.

The title of the article seems to justify gender violence and, throughout the text, the murderer’s act seems to be minimized. 

In French, the colon (two points) is used to give an explanation and to make a cause-and-consequence link. In this case, such a causal link was made between the first part of the sentence which is “woman stabbed” and the second part which is “the murderer couldn’t stand his spouse’s remarks”. The use of the colon (two points), implies that the husband killed his partner because he couldn’t stand her comments. In this way, the title gives a “reason” for the murder. Which could mean that if the victim didn’t make these kind of “insulting” remarks, maybe she would not have been stabbed. 

This is not the only point we can underline in this article. Indeed, in the first paragraph, the journalist uses the verb ”attacked” instead of ”killed” to explain the act. In the same paragraph,  in the next sentence, it’s also mentioned that the husband was ”under the influence of alcohol”.

The first sentence tends to minimize the act of the murderer. The second one minimizes his responsibility.

In the second paragraph, the journalist starts mentioning the public prosecutor but we don’t know where the mention ends because the second quotation mark does not exist: 

The investigation undertaken by the public safety department emphasizes that conflicts were common in the couple’s relationship, without being able to establish that violent acts could have been committed in the past.” 

The meaning of this sentence changes depending on whether the words were stated by the public prosecutor or by the journalist. But either way, it is important to stress that this kind of violence is usually part of a long series of violent incidents the victim used to suffer.

Later in the article, the journalist explains the context of the facts:

The victim made it known that she wanted a divorce, to which the defendant replied with death threats if she really sought to divorce. Provoked, the husband took a knife and stabbed her in the chest.

As in the title, the use of “provoked” seems to be a justification of the husband’s reaction. In other words, if she was stabbed, it is because she “provoked” him. Moreover, the “insults” mentioned in the headline turned out to be a statement from the woman, who wanted a divorce (to leave a probably already violent marriage).

Finally, the article is published in the ”country” section of the newspaper. The first article on the same subject, written the day before, was in the ”stories” (fait-divers) section. Yet, as gender violence and marital murder are societal problems, the article should rather be in the “society” section. Publishing this kind of subject in the ”stories” section, implies that it is an individual and marginal act, merely a story which occurred as an isolated case. But is it?

WHAT ARE THE FACTS?

Murders of spouses or domestic partners are not lone incidents, or isolated cases which occur because someone “lost his temper” or “couldn’t stand insults from his wife”. According to a survey of INSEE, cited by the association Acrimed, at least 216,000 women between 18 and 75 years old are attacked by their partner or ex partner every year. The feminist collective Osez le feminisme writes that 121 women were killed by their (ex) partner in 2013.

In 40% of these cases, it was proved that the victim already suffered various forms of violence before the murder.

These are not new discoveries and they definitely shouldn’t be unfamiliar to journalists, as French journalist Titiou Lecoq confirms:

”[These crimes] are almost always murders before which the victim has affirmed her will as an independent individual, by leaving a partner, by speaking up, by refusing to have sex. And the murderer was not able to tolerate this.”

It’s important to understand the background of gender violence and report on it accordingly. In Spain, for instance, journalists wrote a list of guidelines for reporting on violence against women, which proclaims:

”We never look for justifications or  ’causes’ (alcohol, drugs, conflicts…). The cause of gender violence is the domination and control some men exert over their partner.”

The journalists should add this kind of information to stories about gender violence, rather than finding “reasons” for murder in words uttered by the murdered woman. Furthermore, reporting on such news is an opportunity to publish information about where to get help -- a free phone line for victims of gender violence could have been added to the article.  That opportunity was missed here as well.

Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes has not ratified yet the document written by the women journalist’s collective Prenons la Une which developed 11 recommendations on the treatment of gender violence in the media.

CONCLUSION

The headline, as well as claims and word choices in the text, that this woman was murdered because her husband “couldn’t take her insults”, or because she “provoked” him, we rate as justifying and trivializing violence against women. It is also an example of manipulation of facts, as the “insults” turned out to be a request for divorce.

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