Belgrade, 4 December 2020 – Drawing attention to the upcoming anniversary of the Montreal massacre*, a date part of the “16 Days of Activism against Violence against Women”, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Serbia would like to point out that in the media, which are still the main source of information on murders of women, there are almost no analytical or critical stories on the problem of firearms abuse in cases of violence against women. This is shown by the Analysis of media coverage of firearm misuse in violence against women committed by men, which dealt with media reporting in the second half of 2019.
Only 10% of the media reports on violence against women published during that period contained information on firearms abuse. According to a SEESAC study on firearms and gender-based violence, 39% of murders of women in Serbia were committed using firearms, and 88% of those murders were committed by their husbands or partners. Also, deaths occurring as a result of firearms abuse are much more frequent in the case of violence in the family than in criminal confrontations.
What is lacking the most in media reports, are investigations of the connection between the presence of firearms and violence against women, or domestic violence. Less than 2% of the relevant media reports dealt with the problem of firearms abuse as a phenomenon, rather than as an individual, isolated incident.
Half of the media reports on the subject contained sensationalist or stereotypical phrases describing firearms abuse, such as “shoot full of bullets”, “sowing death”, more often than not used in the very title, as well as details of the act of murder, instead of information that is of interest to the public.
When reporting on murders of women, the media for the most part mention the type of firearms used, but they fail to seek information pertaining to the ownership and origin of the said firearms, the data on whether the perpetrators participated in previous wars, and whether they had a criminal record for violence or other criminal offences.
Only slightly over one-third of media reports contained information on the potential or actual legal consequences of firearms abuse. The broader topic, that of the connection between the use of firearms for coercion, threats, control, verbal intimidation and rape, on the one hand, and the increase of the risk of escalation of violence, on the other, is entirely lacking.
Even though the responsibility for suppressing violence against women primarily falls on institutions, prevention and protection from violence are largely conditioned by the attitudes and perception of society pertaining to this phenomenon. Through educational and ethical reporting, the media can significantly contribute to the suppression of the culture of weapons and the culture of violence, whose main victims are women.
When reporting on a particular case of violence against women, media can also provide an overview of the broader context of the problem. It is of particular importance to preserve the dignity of the victims of violence and to avoid sensationalist and stereotypical presentations of violence, which largely contribute to its banalisation and normalisation. Also of great importance is reporting on the sanctions awaiting perpetrators of violence, the possible shortcomings when it comes to the response of competent institutions, the short-term and long-term consequences of this form of violence for survivors, and for the safety of the entire community.
The “Analysis of media coverage of firearm misuse in violence against women committed by men” constitutes a part of the work of the group Journalists against Violence, supported by UNDP. The entire text of the analysis is accessible via the link: https://bit.ly/33ZYMwL.
This analysis was conducted within the framework of the project “Reduce Risk – Increase Safety – Towards Ending SALW Misuse in Domestic Violence Context”, implemented by UNDP, with the financial support of the Government of Germany.
* The anniversary of the Montreal massacre is marked for the sake of preserving the memory of 6th December 1989, when Marc Lépine, a 25-year-old man, armed with a semiautomatic rifle and knives, killed 14 women and wounded 13 people (nine women and four men) at the University of Montreal, following which he committed suicide. Lépine believed that female students were to blame for the fact that he was not admitted to the École Polytechnique, an engineering school affiliated with the Université de Montréal (source: www.womenngo.org.rs)