FixedIt: Allegedly punching a woman in the head is not just a “legal issue”

ESPN reported that the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office announced last Thursday that it was charging Reuben Foster with felony counts of domestic violence with an allegation that he inflicted great bodily injury, forcefully attempting to prevent a victim from reporting a crime and possession of an assault weapon. He allegedly punched his girlfriend in the head between eight and ten times.

Foster played football for the San Francisco 49ers. He has reportedly been suspended until the charges against him are heard in court. It is reasonable for a sports report to include or even lead with this. They’re reporting on sport not crime. It is not reasonable to completely erase the nature of his alleged crimes from the headline.

Professional athletes have been protected from consequences for violence against women for a long time. As a New York Times article from 2003 pointed out,” The difference in these results for athletes and non-athletes indicates something is working to the advantage of the athletes over their accusers. The athlete’s social environment provides him with both protection and support. Accused athletes have money, powerful lawyers, public relations specialists, high-profile coaches and other popular personalities to come to their defense.”

Hiding the crimes footballers are accused of is part of the culture of protecting these athletes.

This is not a trivial issue. It matters because headlines are supposed to be a short summary of the article and when the article is about violence men commit against women and those men are invisible, the headline is not telling the story, it’s erasing the story.

Also, most people don’t consume news by reading a print newspaper from cover to cover. Only some people go directly to the home page of a news outlet. Most people get news links from social media, and the most likely source is Facebook. But regardless of the source, we see far more headlines than we click on.

Something like 80 percent of the headlines we see, we never click through to read the article. We’re not necessarily thinking very much about the headlines we don’t click on, but we see them. And without being consciously aware that it’s happening they are still describing something to us. When they fit our subconscious bias or when they’re underpinned myths about violence and repeat them over and over again, they reinforce them in our minds, but we don’t really notice that it’s happening.

The things we don’t notice are far more dangerous than the things we do notice.

Clarity in reporting and avoiding the passive voice and are among the first things journalists are taught. Which is why the constant use of passive voice and unclear reporting on violence against women stands out so much.

If all the violent crimes committed by men were reported in the active voice with the perpetrators and their crime as the subject of every headline, it would be overwhelming. Because it is overwhelming.

We are journalists and it is not our job to erase the truth so our audience is not made to feel uncomfortable. Our job is to describe what is happening in our society. And the sad truth is that around 90 percent of violent crimes are committed by men. Avoiding this fact doesn’t make it less true but it does make it much more difficult to address the underlying cause.

Headlines matter and this is why FixedIt exists.

FixedIt is an ongoing project to push back against the media’s constant erasure of violent men and blaming of innocent victims. If you would like to help fund it – even $5 a month makes a big difference – please consider becoming a Patron


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