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Former resident not happy with coverage

Dear Editor,

Having spent most of much of my life living in Liberty County and my family still living there, I work to stay informed of the events in the area. 

Learning of the incident in Allenhurst via the article on the Coastal Courier site entitled, “Hostage standoff ends in gunfire, suspect’s death,” I was saddening for those involved but mostly brought on disappointment with and outrage at how it was written. 

As a therapist who works exclusively with individuals who have experienced or perpetrated acts of family violence, this article by the Coastal Courier is one more example of a failure by the media in addressing the issue.

Let me preface this commentary by expressing my sincere condolences for the individuals involved and the friends and family of those involved in the Allenhurst domestic-related hostage incident over the weekend. Their lives have been forever changed and the trauma and tragedy are not lost in my awareness. With that said, however, I find it appalling how the true gravity of the trauma and tragedy of the situation is inadequately captured and inaccurately portrayed in the media outlets that are reporting on the incident.

Each thing I have read or heard about the incident uses headlines and/or language like “suspect,” “a man,” “standoff,” “hostage situation,” etc. As is too often found in news stories covering such atrocious incidents, vague, passive language is being used.  When, in reality, this is another example of a domestic violence related fatality.

The only mention of the fact that this is an incident of family violence is in the brief lines in reports about police responding to a “domestic dispute” that “turned into a hostage situation.” Let’s be clear: the ENTIRE “situation” was “a domestic dispute”—the ENTIRE situation was domestic violence.

What’s unfortunate is this neglect to correctly label incidents is too common. The headlines and articles covering the many incidents of violence in society like mass shootings, police brutality, rapes/assaults and of course other incidents of family violence like intimate partner violence or child abuse/neglect, use passive language about the events and those who commit them. 

And while an argument in favor of the passive language may be that it’s the news and therefore, they have to objectively report facts, the fact that it is another example of a male perpetrating violence, let alone another example of a male perpetrating an incident of family violence, is a fact that is passively not mentioned. This passive language is an active, negligent and irresponsible omission.

To address concern about my potential bias, of course women commit acts of violence. However, research shows time and time again that the vast majority of these offenses are committed by men. Even in those instances when reports are focused on the victims, the language continues to be passive, as if the violence is something that happens TO the woman, children or other victims, rather than an act committed BY a male (for example, “man arrested after wife killed” instead of “man arrested after he allegedly killed wife”—with the former language, there’s a clear indication of the act committed versus the latter language leaving the sense that the wife was passively killed).

I’m also not ignorant to the fact that many could read this commentary and focus on the potential mental health factors that may or may not have contributed to the incident, such as PTSD or depression. However, doing so further stigmatizes mental illness and excuses violent, criminal and abusive behavior. MENTAL ILLNESS DOES NOT CAUSE VIOLENCE—let alone domestic violence. 

It can certainly be a contributing factor and there is research that supports that depression and anxiety can be correlated with increased risk for domestic violence (both increasing the likelihood that someone is victimized and the likelihood that someone perpetrates). By focusing on mental illness as causal is not only ignorant, but dangerous. It would be like blaming guns or violent shows/games/music for all mass shootings—they can all be contributing factors and/or increase understanding, but not THE factor, nor is it THE factor that links all these violent incidents together.

Gender is the common denominator here…

Neglecting to call an incident what it is (family violence), using passive or too-gender neutral language when referring to those involved in the incident (“suspect” versus “man”) and focusing on miscellaneous, though contributing, factors rather than reflecting on the factors that are repeatedly contributing to these incidents allows these incidents to recur. Ignoring the societal and cultural factors surrounding masculinity, beliefs about gender roles and family, beliefs about “domestic disputes” being private matters, etc. perpetuates the problem. Let’s help our hurting men and normalize traditionally “feminine” qualities such as experiencing and expressing emotions, seeking and receiving help, being nurturing, accepting influence, etc. so they can stop hurting others. But this starts with accountability, for the individuals, society and the media.

Omission allows commission and language matters: Omission of the correct language and factors involved in these incidents is why the commission of such acts is able to continue. Let’s call it what it is and address those real, recurring, issues.

Heather Williams

Clarksville, TN (Former resident of Liberty County)

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