March 2, 2012

Regarding the Feb. 24 Metro article “Jury saw a limit to Huguely’s malice”:

It is important to put the violence by George Huguely V in context and to place responsibility where it belongs. A young woman just starting out in life was murdered by an abusive ex-boyfriend. Her death was brutal — and she suffered. There can be no excuse for such violent behavior. Not jealousy, not alcohol, not the volatility of young love.

Women in their early 20s experience the highest rates of intimate-partner violence in the country. Such violence leads to the deaths of three women a day and the injuries of many more. Two studies conducted of media coverage of domestic violence murders in the late 1990s provide valuable insight into the importance of understanding this context.

A Washington state study of 230 news articles about 44 deaths related to domestic violence found that nearly all the stories portrayed these incidents as isolated events, rather than as part of a larger social problem.

A similar Rhode Island study of the media coverage of domestic violence homicides found that journalists often portrayed the murder as an “unpredictable private tragedy” rather than part of a larger pattern of abuse. Both studies found that media coverage generally failed to provide accurate information about the dynamics of domestic violence or utilize experts as sources for stories. When experts were quoted, however, the media coverage was much more likely to describe the murder as a part of the societal problem of domestic violence and to discuss community resources for responding to violence.

These lessons can be applied to coverage of the murder of Yeardley Love, to encourage those who experience violence to come forward, knowing that offenders will be held accountable.

Lynn Rosenthal, Washington

The writer is the White House adviser on violence against women.