Use Survivor-Affirming Language

Given the high rates of intimate partner violence in New York City and across the country, it is safe to assume that a survivor of intimate partner violence may read your story. Thus, it is critical that the language in articles about intimate partner violence does not further stigmatize or blame victims and survivors. Below we dispel common myths about intimate partner violence and provide examples of effective and ineffective language.

Common myths about intimate partner violence

  • Myth: Intimate partner violence is a private matter.
    • Intimate partner violence not only affects the people in the relationship, but it also affects their children, their families, and their communities. We can all do something to help prevent intimate partner violence.
  • Myth: Intimate partner violence only affects poor women.
    • Intimate partner violence can affect anyone regardless of socioeconomic status, gender identity and expression, race, ethnicity, religion, and immigration status.
  • Myth: Intimate partner violence doesn't happen in same-sex relationships.
    • Patterns of power and control can be present in any relationship, including same-sex relationships.
  • Myth: If the abuse were that bad, the victim would just leave.
    • There are many reasons why a person might not leave an abusive relationship, including fear for their safety and their children's safety. In fact, victims are often in most danger when they try to leave an abusive relationship or after they have done so.
  • Myth: Intimate partner violence is an anger management problem.
    • Abusive behavior is a choice and abusive partners choose to control their victims.
  • Myth: Alcohol and drugs cause intimate partner violence.
    • Although many abusive partners also abuse alcohol and/or drugs, alcohol and drugs are not the underlying cause of the abuse. Again, abusive behavior is a choice.

Example of effective and ineffective language

Ineffective language

Shawn White, 37, an emergency room technician who said his brother-in-law skateboards with Samuel's surviving son, described her as anti-social. "She was off," he said.

  • In this case, a distant acquaintance of the perpetrator is cited as a source rather than an informed source.

"She kept pushing his buttons, and she pushed the last button," said Eric Woodruff, 57. "He had a lot of tension built up. He exploded." […] "I expected it…he was a loose cannon."

  • This quote from a source, who is a relative of the perpetrator, implies that the victim is at fault for pushing the perpetrator's buttons. It also gives the impression that this intimate partner homicide was due to an anger management problem.

Beau stabs gal pal to death

  • Using phrases like "gal pal" minimizes the relationship between the victim and perpetrator. Instead phrases like "girlfriend," "spouse," and "intimate partner" should be used.

She told him he had to cook and clean for himself, and he nearly chopped her head off.

  • This language blames the victim by suggesting her actions are what caused the homicide.

You might expect to find love triangles and murder mystery stories featured on shows like CSI and Forensic Files. However, a recent stabbing took place right in our community and an arrest was made last week […]

  • This suggests that intimate partner violence is an intriguing mystery only found on television rather than a common societal problem.

A jealous taxi driver ran the car his baby mama was driving off a Bronx highway yesterday and then hacked her to death as she sat trapped in the overturned SUV, sources said.

Police arrived an hour later and found Kelly's naked body hog-tied and face-down in Romain's shower with stab wounds to her neck, torso and back, sources said.

The decomposing body of a drug-addled mother of four was found in a Bronx apartment Saturday morning, wrapped in a blanket with her hands bound, police sources said.

  • Describing the homicide using sensational language like in the three quotes above can re-traumatize victims who are readers and does not help move the conversation forward.

Effective language

There are many examples of effective language in coverage of intimate partner violence. Below is a sampling of some of these examples specifically covering intimate partner homicides over the last few years.

A domestic dispute between a couple in Melrose turned into a murder-suicide Monday when a man shot his longtime girlfriend and then took his own life, authorities said. (New York Post, 10/27/15)

As the number of homicides in New York has reached historically low level, the Police Department has intensified its efforts to combat a particularly stubborn and daunting source of murders: domestic violence. (New York Times, 7/25/13)

German got an order of protection against Espinal in May after he hit her so hard she fell to the floor, according to court records reviewed by the Daily News. (Metro New York, 8/29/13)

Fonte alleges that Bonafede subjected his client to a "pattern of repeated physical and emotional abuse" during the year they lived together before Bonafede's death. (Staten Island Advance, 5/30/13)

Experts and law enforcement officials are puzzled and on edge over the troubling surge in domestic-violence homicides on Staten Island in the first three months of 2016. (Staten Island Advance, 4/16/16)

The review found that domestic violence accounted for 60 percent of violent episodes in the family shelters with children and 80 percent in adult family shelters. The city will bring back a program that provided domestic violence services in shelters that was ended in 2010. (New York Times, 3/16/16)

According to the Mayor's Office, in 2014 alone, there were 63 family-related homicides, and the New York Police Department responded to over 282,000 domestic incidents. Long-term statistics are more damning: From 2002 to 2013, 67 percent of adult family-related homicide victims were female. Sadly, Ms. Cutler and her two daughters are the most recent examples. (New York Times, 2/13/16)

"There's really not sufficient services for people here. There's too many people that need help," she said. "I think we have a long way to go to have services for everybody and to also get them to take the first step" to seek help. Coyne, of Safe Horizon agreed. "We can always use more resources," she said. "Oftentimes, the need exceeds the funding streams we have. I think coordination of services is the key that helps make the difference. There's not just one answer. It's definitely a multifaceted approach." (Staten Island Advance, 4/16/16)

And like drug abuse in families has been, domestic violence still too often something that is simply not spoken about, even within the affected families themselves. But too often on Staten Island, that silence has become deadly, and it has to stop. (Staten Island Advance, 5/24/16)

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects documented 15 intimate partner homicides within the LGBTQ community in 2014, the last year for which full data is available. The group has responded to 10 such incidents this year. (Gay City News, 8/23/16)