FixedIt: Why was he in court?

The Border Mail reported that Senior Constable Luke Hawking appeared in Wangaratta Magistrate’s Court for a committal hearing on rape and sexual assault charges.

If the Magistrate finds there is enough evidence to proceed to trial it will then be up to the court to determine his guilt or innocence.

At the committal stage it is a risk to include his name in the headline. He may not even end up on trial and he has a right to a fair hearing and the presumption of innocence.

It is, however, in the public interest to report that a member of the police force was charged with rape and sexual assault. Victims of crimes perpetrated by police can be scared to report them to police for fear of police protecting their colleagues instead of the public. Stories like this have value because they demonstrate that police will take action against one of their own.

Although the details were reported in the body of the article it still matters that they were erased from the headline.

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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