Another part of the puzzle of understanding our varied responses to domestic violence is found in the way domestic violence is portrayed. The language we use matters to how we perceive and make sense of social issues. Anti-sexist male activist Jackson Katz points out that labeling victims of sexual crimes “accusers” reverses public support for alleged victims to alleged perpetrators. The media’s common use of a passive voice when reporting on domestic violence inaccurately emphasizes a shared responsibility of the perpetrator and victim for the abuser’s violence and generally leaves readers with an inaccurate perception that domestic violence isn’t a gendered social problem. Visual evidence of women’s injuries at the hands of men is a powerful antidote to this misrepresentation.
In my own research, forthcoming in Sociological Spectrum, I found that the race of perpetrators also matters to who is seen as accountable for their violence. I analyzed 330 news articles about 66 male celebrities in the headlines for committing domestic violence. Articles about Black celebrities included criminal imagery – mentioning the perpetrator was arrested, listing the charges, citing law enforcement and so on – 3 times more often than articles about White celebrities. White celebrities benefited further by their violence being excused and justified 2½ times more often than Black celebrities’ domestic violence. For example, White celebrities violence was more likely to be described as a mutual escalation or explained away due to mitigating circumstances, such as inebriation.