Think tank unhappy with media reporting on gender violence

THE think tank Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) has called out sections of the local media for going dangerously close to 'normalising' violence against women and girls in the way these reports are handled.

The think tank, in its latest report — 'Breaking News: Gender-Based Violence in Jamaican News Media' — which was released on Thursday evening, said instances of gender-based violence are often portrayed as natural responses to life's stressors or dissatisfaction with one's relationship, particularly in cases of domestic violence.

According to CAPRI, "by presenting reasons as to why VAWG (violence against women and girls) occurs — like divorce, recent unemployment, financial problems — news media runs the risk of normalising and justifying abuse".

"This presentation is concerning as it reflects the justifications provided by perpetrators of abuse, justifications which, if not addressed, often lead to reoffending," said the report.

Speaking further on the issue the CAPRI said: "Presenting instances of VAWG in this way also nurtures perceptions that it is a private, domestic issue that does not warrant state intrusion, impacting political and public support for future interventions."

According to CAPRI, this further exacerbates the existing low levels of help-seeking behaviours among women who experience violence, and further complicates the internalisation of violent social norms.

The Code of Practice for Jamaican Journalists does not explicitly reference normalisation within its guidelines, but instead focuses on encouraging reporters to avoid sensationalism.

CAPRI on Thursday said "experts and stakeholders" have suggested that the subject of VAWG requires specialist knowledge, and that journalists should seek to become more specifically proficient in this area. It said such action could address issues raised in relation to lack of knowledge in this space.

The think tank, among other things, is recommending that guidelines for journalists regarding gender-sensitive reporting should be developed for the specific Jamaican context through multi-stakeholder consultations, including the relevant ministries, departments, and agencies, and reference to international best practice standards such as the United Nations Guidelines for Gender and Conflict-sensitive reporting.

"Context-sensitive and fair reporting is an industry responsibility not necessarily aligned with the interest of any individual publisher. This action should, therefore, be the responsibility of the Press Association [of Jamaica]," CAPRI said.

Jamaica has the second-highest rate of femicide, and one of the highest rates of intimate partner violence in the world. An estimated 28 per cent of Jamaican women experience direct gender-based violence over a lifetime. Seven per cent of women on the island have reported to have experienced abuse from an intimate partner in the past 12 months, according to CAPRI. It said while Jamaican women are most likely to experience abuse between the ages of 25 and 29, VAWG is experienced to varying degrees by women of all ages.

— Alicia Dunkley-Willis

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