Violence against women isn't news. Or at least that is the logical implication one might draw from the lacking and skewered coverage given to the subject by the media. Unless of course it involves a famous sports figure like Kobe Bryant or O.J. Simpson, or a beautiful mother-to-be like Lacey Peterson, violence against women is a seriously under-reported story. Stories about violence in the home are routinely trivialized as domestic matters and misogynist violence such as female genital mutilation and honor killings are dismissed as cultural norms.
Inasmuch as violence against women is a global pandemic, the consequences of this ignorance and bias are horrific. In November, 2003, UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women) published a report stating that one out three women are likely to be sexually assaulted during their lifetimes. In this country alone, 588,490 women were victims of non-fatal intimate partner violence in 2001 and in March, 2004, Amnesty International mounted a global campaign to end violence against women.  One would think that when violence of this magnitude terrorizes half of the world's population, it would be front page news.
But as Carolyn Waldron points out in an article published by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), "Media implicitly tell us how to rank the importance of the public issues according to the amount of press coverage devoted to an issue."  In other words, lack of appropriate media coverage of an issue leads to the implication that the topic is not important. And obviously, if a story is not reported, public awareness is significantly lessened.
Most disturbing is the disproportionate coverage of sensationalized violence. Invariably, rape stories get far more coverage than domestic violence stories. In all likelihood, this is because rape stories usually focus on one individual woman. If she is attractive, and particularly if she is white, she is a very marketable victim.
As Jennifer L. Pozner (former director of the FAIR Women's Desk) makes clear, controversy rather than facts sells in a "media climate that considers news a "product" and readers and viewers "consumers".  As an example, female genital mutilation affects millions of women worldwide, yet you rarely hear about this. By contrast, the Kobe Bryant rape trial, Lacey Peterson's murder and the Simpson case were staple front page headlines for months.
without doubt the most titillating crime there is. It is no accident that
rape is a frequent theme in pornography. The sexual brutilization of women
is a highly marketable business, bringing in some $10 billion in profits in
the U.S. every year.  As lucrative as the portrayal of
rape is in the adult entertainment industry, it stands to reason that it is
also a profitable story for the news media as well. It is interesting to
note that the very same cable companies that broadcast news shows also
broadcast pornography. In fact one of those companies, Time Warner, is the
parent company of CNN.
It is also
important to note that the worst sensationalizing occurs when women commit
sexualized violence, you can count on that to be the day's top story.
Witness the Lorena Bobbit case (she cut off her husband's penis but was
found innocent by reason of insanity caused by the abusive behavior of her
husband). More recently Abu Ghraib, where the actions of a few women such as
Lynndie England were huge news, but the abuse of women prisoners in the same
prison has been totally ignored by the media or dismissed as 'just porn'
provides another stunning example of this sort of sensationalism.
As I began writing this piece, we passed the benchmark of 1000 American deaths in Iraq. It was anticipated by the media for weeks, and its significance pondered at great length on the airwaves and in print. Yet more than 1000 women are killed by intimate partner violence in this country alone every year. Hundreds of thousands more are raped and hurt by sexual violence. But that is not front page news.
Postscript: There are many women-run efforts to report violence against
women. The following list is not meant to be a complete compendium, just a
Off Our Backs: www.offourbacks.org
Women's Enews: www.womensenews.org
Daily Feminist News: www.feminist.org/news/newsbyte/uswire.asp
Ms. Magazine: www.msmagazine.com
addition, there are several excellent sites that list comprehensive
statistics about violence against women:
Family Violence Prevention Fund: www.endabuse.org
The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network: www.rainn.org
is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the
Feminist Peace Network,
www.feministpeacenetwork.org which publishes
Atrocities, a bulletin documenting violence against women throughout the
world. Her work has been published in numerous publications including,
Dissident Voice, Off Our Backs, Progressive, Rain and Thunder, and Zmag.
Domestic Violence is a Serious Widespread Social Problem in
Family Violence Prevention Fund,