FixedIt: another invisible murderer, another blameable dead woman

This headline was from the Newcastle Herald in May 2016.

The man accused of murdering Amanda Carter was completely erased from the headline, but her choices were the subject of it.

I held on to this until after the trial was over. Not because the headline couldn’t have been fixed at the time – it could – but so I could write about the evidence given at the trial and how the invisible murderer and implicit vicim blaming in the headline is so wrong and does so much damage to how we understand men’s violence against women.

Last week Ricardo Francis Herman Dasilva was found guilty of murdering Amanda Carter.

On the rare occasions that journalists and editors engage with the FixedIt project they almost always cite legal restrictions as the reason for their appalling headlines.

Sub judice contempt is a serious issue. You can’t say someone committed murder if it hasn’t yet been proven in court. It could well be grounds for a mistrial if the defence can show it may have influenced a jury. Apart from the obvious miscarriage of justice, it also means everyone involved has to go through the trauma of a trial all over again. No one wins, everyone suffers. It’s not worth risking all that for one headline.

In Dasilva’s case it would have been entirely wrong for any media outlet to report that he had murdered Amanda Carter before he had been found guilty.

They could, however, have reported that he had been charged with murder. They could have reported that he was on trial for murder. They could and should have reported the evidence given to the court where it was not under a suppression order.

It is entirely relevant in reporting on domestic violence homicides to describe the excuses made by a murderer for the crime he committed. Ending a relationship with a violent or controlling man is dangerous. Men who think of women as property, a thing they must own and control, believe they have the right to commit the ultimate violation – taking her life – because she is his. She has no right to leave or even criticise him. No matter what he does to her she must accept it and remain within his control. Anything he does to maintain that control is justified in his mind because losing control over “his” woman is perceived as a threat. Something dangerous she did to him and therefore anything he does is her fault, she made him do it.

These are the patterns of domestic violence and they absolutely should be understood by the public. The media has a clear role to play in helping people understand them.

So there is value in describing the circumstances. In this case, evidence presented at the trial showed Amanda Carter believed he had been unfaithful and made the entirely reasonable choice to end the relationship. He then stalked her, intimidated her and lied about her to her employer in an attempt to get her fired. Eventually he beat her to death.

This is what domestic violence looks like. It is not a perfectly happy loving relationship that suddenly goes wrong. It is a pattern of control and fear that can escalate to murder.

Ricardo Francis Herman Dasilva was found guilty of murdering Amanda Carter. From the moment he was charged the only actions that require examination or reporting are the choices he made. Nothing Amanda Carter did led to her murder, none of her choices need to go under a spotlight, she was the victim of a crime not the cause of it.

And yet, he wasn’t even present in the headline. Only she was. Why?

Implicit in this headline are all the unspoken excuse for male violence. She drove him to it. She suspected an affair but what if she was wrong? She didn’t know for sure, did she? What if he didn’t do it, how would that make him feel? Men get angry, they can’t help it, it’s natural to them. Poor man, he was heartbroken and even if it wasn’t ok that he killed her, women can bring this on themselves with their suspicions and manipulations, right? 

Wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

There is only one thing that causes murder and that is the decision to murder someone. If trial by media is wrong for the perpetrators (which it is) it is even more wrong for the victims. Not only have they not done anything wrong, they have had to suffer far too much for someone else’s choices. It is not the role of journalism to add to the wrongs already done to them.

It is not the role of journalism to implicitly endorse the excuses violent men give themselves for the violence they commit.

It is the role of journalism to report and explain the truth. When we fail to do that we fail our very purpose.

We can do better than this, we should do better than this. We owe it to Amanda Carter and all the other women, children and men who suffered as she did to do better than this. We owe it to all the people who knew her and loved her to do better than this. We owe it to everyone who read about Amanda Carter’s murder and were not told the truth about what happened to her to do better than this.

We should just do better than this.


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