Tag Archives: #WhyILeft

October: Domestic Violence Awareness Month

15 Oct, 2014

Starting with something beautiful: Comrade by Gabby Cogan – an incredible dance piece, inspired by her readings on IPV.

This month began with an email from someone who knows Prepare for the work we do at her school. “Someone I know is in a violent relationship and she has a young child; she wants to leave but is scared. Can you help her?”

Our colleague’s friend is dealing with her relationship outside the public eye. But some stories make the news, especially when celebrities and athletes are involved, as is the case with professional football player Ray Rice and his caught-on-tape knockout punch of Janay Palmer Rice. One of the important lessons I’ve learned from teaching Walk the Talk (anti-bias, anti-bullying curriculum) and gaining more media literacy is to ask, “Whose voices are represented?” and “Whose voices are left out?”

For DVAM, I am doing my first media round-up. I will be looking at how various media outlets covered this story . Even using the term story matters – it distances us from the fact that these are real people with real pain and struggles. It’s not a fictional portrayal of violence and the aftermath, but the lives of human beings not unlike those we may know in our own personal lives – like the person who emailed Prepare earlier this month.

Part 1 – Whose perspectives are represented?

Typically, consumers have a few favorite sources for news, which means only a few points of view influence one’s perspective on a given topic or event. Violence however doesn’t happen in a vacuum. To better understand the Rice family’s experience, we can gain greatly by being exposed to a wider variety of viewpoints that take into account the larger social context: issues of violence against women, Intimate Partner Violence, and the particular experience of IPV for black women, the social place of sports and glamorized aggression in this country, racism, classism, and privilege, issues of punishment, forgiveness and the comeback story. Lastly, I have to acknowledge the limits of my own perspective, so it’s on me to trust the voices of people with different identities when they speak from their perspective.

Take a moment and reflect on where you got your information about this event. Have you been speaking about this with friends or family? What do they say about Janay and Ray?

First we have Ray and Janay’s statements in interviews, at press conferences and through social media. Spokespersons for law enforcement and the casino contributed to the information flow. Media voices from TV, print, and Internet coverage were supplemented by content from experts in the field such as authors, researchers and mental health professionals. Women’s organizations such as NOW and the Black Women’s Roundtable of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation spoke out. Sexual assault and IPV experts and advocates contributed important information, and provided various sources for statistics [1] and resources [2]. @Rihanna was drawn in to the media fray.

We heard from the world of football: Baltimore Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh, owner Steve Bisciotti, and General Manager Ozzie Newsome, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, current and former players, coaches and owners from other teams and the National Football League Players Association. The current and former wives of NFL players also weighed in.

Social media had a large role as well. Hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft documented the perspective of people who have experienced IPV and #FireGoodell and #ResignGoodell added to the public conversation. NFL Game Changer was started as a way to encourage the NFL to take a larger role in combating the problem of IPV. Comments posted at online sites for major news media stories and in response to bloggers’ posts kept the conversation going.

As pointed out in more than one place, the voices not represented are those of the victims of IPV who have died at the hands of their abusers. Also not represented, the voice of the couple’s young child.

Whose voices/whose perspectives are heard – matters.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at the Rice family story from numerous perspectives:

Part 2 –Ray and Janay speak for themselves, hashtags and social media center the voices of survivors and advocates

Part 3 – The football world weighs in, @Terry Crews (Terry Crews, actor and former pro-football player) and @JBSportscaster (James Brown, anchor for CBS Sports and former collegiate athlete) speak up

Part 4 – Context and facts about IPV

[1] US Dept. of Justice, 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Report NIPSV, Women of Color Network Facts & Stats Collection, National Domestic Violence Hotline Statistics

[2] National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-7233, Jacqueline Campbell’s Danger Assessment Tool, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Domestic Violence Resources from dangerassessment.org.


Hello Readers:

This past fall, Prepare was very pleased to team up with Dr. Lisa Weinberg of the CAPS Center (Counseling and Psychological Services) at Montclair State University for a groundbreaking program. An important trend for college psych services centers is to do meaningful and creative outreach to support students who would not otherwise access traditional counseling. Dr. Weinberg created a model to offer Prepare Basics class combined with group therapy, funded by a grant from the American Association for University Women. The pilot program was a success and Prepare will be returning this month to work with a new group of students!

Good intentions, harmful outcomes

The Montclair Times learned of this program and a reporter was assigned to work the story. Assuming good intentions, as the reporter asserted she had, the story was both great and problematic in equal measures. So, what follows is not a critique of the reporter, or her editor, but of the way media in general — illustrated by this particular case – habitually relies on stereotypes and formulas for how to tell a story. The result is to ruin an otherwise inspirational article by perpetuating negative and harmful messages.

Reporters, please do more of this:

  1. Show a lot of respect for survivors. (She did.)
  2. Offer a lot of detail and context. This story described the research measures, defined terms, detailed the class and group therapy structure, discussed past research, and explained the need for the class.(She did.)
  3. Quote accurately (preferably with context). (She was accurate.)

Reporters, please avoid these pitfalls:

1. Stereotypes

The article opened with a provocative quote from one of the students, “I hope you think of me when you put your neck brace on.” Writers are encouraged to start with a something that grabs the reader’s attention.

I wasn’t present at the interview of this person, so I don’t know if she actually said that out loud to an attacker, or thought it, or wished she had said it, or fantasized about saying it should she encounter a dangerous situation in the future. It’s possible she was using a particular type of humor and wasn’t being completely serious. She’s entitled to her feelings and I’d be the last to criticize what someone does or says in the midst of the act of self-preservation.

But, by making that quote the lead sentence for the entire article, and offering no context, it implies that this is how (all, most?) women feel after self-defense class. Man-hating, overconfident, revengeful; a classic worn-out stereotype.

2. Reductionism[1]

The story implied that the recovery benefit most important to highlight was the ability to perform femininity/conform to gender norms:

  • wear a pink necklace and a long dress, feminine and sexy enough for people to notice and for other women to be jealous and
  • get back into dating and romance to land a nice boyfriend.

3. The superhero card

The article, both in print and online, was dominated with photos of someone dressed as Wonder Woman. By including the Wonder Woman photo essay with the story, the implication is that women who engage in recovery work and/or women who do have physical self-defense skills are superheroes and those that don’t are, ya know, less than? Not winners, or not brave, or not willing to help themselves, or something not great.

Ways to make reporting on self-defense and survivors more meaningful

  1. Self-defense training, for some participants, means feeling significantly less physically and emotionally vulnerable. They might express that confidence by imagining warning an assailant about their willingness to resist. They may express that confidence by actually resisting. One student reported their relief that they resisted (verbally and physically) and ended a physical assault against them – this took place while the class was in progress. Several students in fact had to deal with various levels of physical or verbal assault and all utilized skills rehearsed in class to effectively end the encounters.
  2. These women’s lives, and their recovery processes, are complex and multi-dimensional. It’s a disservice to them to sum up their goals and achievements as attaining relationship status or looking “beautiful.” A deeper look at that might be framed as, “the students felt ready to engage in new and healthier romantic relationships” or “feeling more safe and confident meant that students could begin to express themselves with a wider variety of clothing and self-presentation.”
  3. Balance that with examples of other benefits, such as: improved concentration in class and at work, making new friendships, setting healthier boundaries with family members, standing up to bias and stereotyping with friends.
  4. Find a way to tell a story with words if privacy requires no pictures. If indeed pictures are essential as the reporter (post-publication) asserted to me (debatable), how about a picture of MSU’s campus, or the CAPS counseling center? More photos of Dr. Weinberg? Staging a photo shoot was not the only option. After expressing our concerns, the editor agreed to reduce the number of pictures of the Wonder Woman model to 3.
  5. Examine what being one’s own superhero represents to women. Why is it so meaningful to feel the physical embodiment of power, of emotional and physical self-efficacy? How does that support the healing process? How does that counter societal messages to the contrary? Think critically about why there is such a dearth of well-known examples of women who can defend themselves that the “go to” is a fictional character with super-human powers or weapons. How have we been taught that one has to have super powers to physically resist violence? We know that’s not true (at the same time as we acknowledge not everyone has equal access to the right of self-defense and physical resistance is not the only valid choice when faced with violence) but it’s hard to find examples in entertainment and news stories of women who defend themselves without the benefit of some sort of special power and/or who aren’t ultimately punished in some way for doing resisting. Stories like this reinforce that message.
  6. Juxtaposing the story of women who are currently engaged in trauma interventions with a superhero like Wonder Woman calls into question what you would say about women (or other survivors) who don’t “work” on their recovery. It ignores that this is not a safe path for everyone, the timing might not be right, or they might not have access to engage in recovery work, for a multitude of reasons.


Please join us each week and invite others to do so as well. Next week, a look at how different media outlets covered the story of Ray Rice and Janay Palmer Rice and the hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft.

[1] Reductionism: the practice of simplifying a complex idea, issue, condition, or the like, especially to the point of minimizing, obscuring, or distorting it. source: Dictionary.com