Can we please stop trivializing violence against women?

The media continues to sympathize with male murderers, as seen in the reporting on a double homicide in Montreal last week.

If you can think of anything more devastatingly tragic than coming home to find your two young children murdered at the hands of their other parent, I’m not sure what that would be.

When I read the news that, on Oct. 22, 40-year-old Jonathan Pomares had murdered his seven-year-old son Hugo and five-year-old daughter Elise before killing himself, leaving their lifeless little bodies to be found by his wife, I was heartbroken. I kept thinking of Florence Pomares coming back to her Hochelaga home at 9 p.m. after a hard day’s work, only to find a horror scene waiting for her.

The Gazette reported that the first officers found such a violent scene that they had to be “pulled off the investigation and offered psychological assistance.” I can’t even begin to wrap my brain around what it must be have been like for these children’s mother, walking into that bloodbath, seeing her babies’ bodies, her brain slowly registering what had just happened, calling 911, probably knowing full well that they were already gone, and that life for her would never be the same again. I honestly can’t even fathom how someone finds the ability to keep on living after something like that happens and how there ever comes a day when those images don’t haunt you.

It would soon be reported that Florence wanted a divorce and that, in a moment of grief, panic and outrage Jonathan decided to kill his children and then kill himself.

In the days that followed many media outlets kept referring to what happened as a “drame familial” (a family drama), as if everyone involved was equal as a victim. As if this poor family was travelling in a van and careened off a cliff; a moment of bad timing, a wrong turn, a terrible accident that decimated them all.

Only this wasn’t that at all. Someone decided to kill those children, and that someone was their father who wanted to punish their mother and deprive her of what she loved the most, now that he couldn’t have her. This was a double murder, not a family tragedy, and we should call it that.

This was the final act of a possessive man who wanted revenge. Not unlike Guy Turcotte, the former cardiologist, who in 2009 decided to commit suicide after his wife asked for a divorce and so he stabbed his two young children to death because he didn’t want them being raised by another man. Like Turcotte, Pomares thought that his wife and children belonged to him and now that he was losing control of his “property,” he would lash out and penalize their mother in the most vicious way possible. Even if she herself wasn’t physically injured by her soon-to-be ex-husband, this vile act of violence was intended as a brutal assault on her and her decision to leave him. This wasn’t a “family drama” — this was nothing more than a calculated and hateful revenge killing.

Just a day before Florence Pomares found her children murdered in Montreal, Nicole Taitinger’s eight-year-old son Oscar was found dead alongside the body of his father, Mark, in Coquitlam, B.C. in a similar revenge killing. Nicole had recently left her husband and had notified the RCMP that she considered him dangerous. Nothing was done.

The most dangerous time for an abused woman is when she is preparing to leave or has left her partner. When an abuser can no longer control their behaviour, the relationship’s power dynamics or the outcome of the relationship, the violence and the punitive behaviour escalates.

And yet, too often the media chooses to downplay the severity of these murders, portraying the lovelorn, angst-ridden, rejected, suicidal male as somehow not responsible for the final tragic outcome, but an equal victim. One can have empathy for any human being (even a murderer), without absolving them of their crimes or minimizing their actions.

“Crimes of the heart”
“Troubled relationship ends tragically”
“Maryland shooter was apparently lovesick teen”
“Troubled marriage ends in murder”
“Former soldier who dies with woman was ‘broken’ from PTSD: friend”

These are all real headlines describing real murders. In that last example, the former soldier who “dies with woman” was the one who killed her, before killing himself. While I have no doubt that his PTSD was potentially instrumental in this tragedy, the very least the media could have done was refer to him as “former soldier who KILLS woman was ‘broken.’” What does that passive “dies with” serve exactly? Neither of them died from natural causes and only one of them is to blame.

How media covers revenge killings, rape, and domestic violence matters. The words used, the headlines chosen, the images displayed, the angles taken, it all shapes and forms public opinion and reflects what we, as a society, consider important.

Brock Turner wasn’t a Stanford swimmer who assaulted a woman. He was a rapist who happened to swim on Stanford’s varsity team. And yet having media continue to refer to him as “Stanford swimmer Brock Turner” and focus on the former, rather than the latter, unintentionally reinforced what society places most value on.

This past week, the Journal de Montréal initially reported that well-known Quebec rock singer Eric Lapointe was leaving popular TV show La Voix. The news of his departure was splashed on the front page. In tiny print underneath, almost as an afterthought, the subheading quietly added: The rocker was arrested for conjugal violence.

In what universe would it have ever been okay to prioritize his TV departure over allegations of physical abuse? While I was informed that the headline initially ran like that because the allegations had not been confirmed yet — and the domestic abuse charges were indeed prioritized on the front page by the next day — in my humble opinion, that initial image should have never been allowed to run like that to begin with. It gave the public the impression that Lapointe’s accusations of conjugal violence were secondary to him leaving an entertainment show. It trivializes and minimizes abuse allegations.

The following day, the same media had a front-page headline declaring that the charges against Lapointe are most likely “less serious than more serious,” whatever that means. The article consisted of nothing more than an interview with a lawyer who assumed that, since Lapointe is going straight to municipal court, the charges against him probably “aren’t as serious.” Again, we’re talking domestic abuse here, so why are we discussing it in degrees of severity, implying somehow that a slap across the head isn’t as serious as a punch in the face?

“The man who sold more than one million albums was arrested after an argument he had with his wife after a drunken evening.” I hope that, if a day ever comes when I’m charged with something as serious as domestic battery, the reporter covering my case remembers to preface my accusations with my career highlights.

A few years ago, I served on the advisory board for Use the Right Words, a media guide for journalists on how to report on sexual violence. The guide provides the language and frameworks required to report on sexual violence in ways that do not shame or blame survivors or minimize the aggression. It’s is a valuable multi-purpose tool and resource for journalists, media makers, community organizers, and educators. While its primary target is sexual violence, the tools and checklist it provides can help navigate reporting on gender violence and domestic violence too.

I have written about this issue on numerous occasions, presented on panels, and been interviewed on the topic, and I wish I could say that I see steady progress, but I don’t. I continue to see too many headlines that prioritize the perpetrator’s state of mind, minimize the violence itself, or treat the double murder of two young children as a “family drama.” We owe the victims more. Using the right words would be a start. ■