Violence Against Women Given Little Context, Victims Blamed on Today Show

Offender: The Today show

Media Outlet: NBC

The Offense: Today’s coverage of the murder of University of Virginia student Yeardley Love has failed to adequately address the larger issue of violence against women, and on 5/6/10 the show brought on “criminal profiler” Pat Brown, who lectured young women to get to know men better before jumping into sexual relationships.

NOW’s Analysis: As with most news media outlets, the Today show frequently reports the cases of missing, abused and murdered women and girls. Often a spouse or boyfriend is the key suspect. The media love reporting the gory details, the lurid circumstances, the outpouring of grief — but they do little to widen the context beyond the case of the day. No information of use is provided to the community. Or, as in this instance, when supposed advice is provided it is sorely misguided.

Brown spoke extensively about how women should “slow down” and not “just rush into something.” Brown explained: “This is what happens to girls . . . they go right out on a date before they get to know the person, and before they get to trust the person, they’re into a sexual relationship, and then it’s too late…” Brown went on to suggest, “Nobody should be in a relationship with anybody who’s aggressive . . . everybody should encourage you, every friend, every relative should say ‘get away from him.'” Earlier in the segment, reporter Jeff Rossen said that school officials couldn’t help prevent the murder because they did not know about the danger Huguely presented — “didn’t know it because Yeardley never reported any of it, and neither did any of her friends who reportedly saw the abuse firsthand.”

What’s wrong with these comments? It seems like common sense to tell a young women to be careful, to advise her and her friends to speak out about abuse. But, why doesn’t anyone ever suggest that young men be educated about how to prevent violence against women? Why doesn’t anyone encourage men to learn how to recognize when they have anger and control issues and to seek help if they do? Blaming the victim, heaping all the responsibility on women to prevent their own abuse is getting real old. Let’s try stopping the violence where it starts.

How can the media help with that? Well, in addition to interviewing criminal profilers like Brown, they should talk to experts on violence against women who can offer information that might actually help our society start tackling this problem at its root. Surely the media see a pattern in their endless “victimized woman of the week” stories? They have the power to shed light on this subject — every segment that simply recounts the details of the crime or holds only the women accountable is time wasted that could have helped make a real difference.

Take Action: Tell NBC’s Today show that their coverage of cases involving domestic/dating violence against women should include discussion by experts who understand the subject and don’t focus on blaming the victim.

Lisa Bennett, NOW Communications Director


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