Top 10 Things Journalists Need to Know About Intimate Partner Violence

July 2021: A Note from Hope Katz Gibbs, producer, BeInkandscent Health & Wellness magazine — It is with great pleasure that I introduce our readers to our fabulous Inkandescent client, award-winning filmmaker Tracy Schott. Not only is she director and producer of films such as “Finding Jenn’s Voice” and the upcoming “Le Bon Chef,” she is an international advocate working to put an end to intimate partner violence. Talk about a Truly Amazing Woman!

In this issue of BeInkandescent Health & Wellness magazine, we shine a light on Tracy and the guests that she’s had on her weekly podcast show, From Janine Latus, author of the New York Times bestselling book about her sister’s murder, “If I Am Missing or Dead,” and Jackson Katz, internationally renowned activist on issues of gender, race, and violence, to survivors Lisette Johnson and Lovern Gordon — the hour Tracy spends interview each of these people puts a face on the devastating violence that around the world goes on behind closed doors.

We are also proud to announce that Tracy is writing a book that Inkandescent Publishing will publish in 2022. Entitled, Becoming a Voice4Change: A Guidebook for Reporters on how to get the story straight, it will provide research, resources, case studies, and more to help the writers of the articles about intimate partner violence do their job better. Scroll down for the book’s introduction, where Tracy offers 10 Tips for Reporters to get the conversation started.

Be sure to tune in for more episodes of Tracy’s show, Tuesdays at 1pm EST on Facebook Live.

Join Me: Become a Voice4Change

By Tracy Schott, producer/director, Finding Jenn’s Voice and founder, Voices4Change

When I released the film Finding Jenn’s Voice in 2015, I was furious. My award-winning documentary about intimate partner violence (IPV), one of the leading causes of death during pregnancy, was my first foray discussing the horrors of domestic abuse.

In the years since, I realized one film was not enough to end this epidemic. On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the US — more than 10 million women and men every year.

As a social worker, I saw these horrors up close. When I practiced for 15 years as a child and family therapist, many adult and child abuse victims came to me to heal from their emotional injuries.

That is why in 2019, I created Voices4Change.

I know that it will take all of us to come together first to understand that this is happening in our own communities, perhaps in the house next to you — or maybe your own home. To bring us together, we need to know the facts. And we need the journalists who bring us our news to be part of the solution.

The book you are about to read is designed to help those powerful reporters tell the right story. Below you’ll find my Top 10 List to get launch the project. If you are a reporter, please put this information to use immediately. If you know a reporter, please share this list.

In the coming months, we’ll be rolling out chapters of the book one at a time so that you can learn as I write. Then, once we publish it, I’ll invite you to buy it, share it, and bring me into your community to speak about it. If we are armed with knowledge, we can be the change we wish to see globally and end intimate partner violence for once and for all.

Questions, thoughts, comments? Visit Voices4Change and send me an email.

Dear Reporter: Please Put These 10 Tips into Action Today

1. Study the stats. Intimate partner violence (IPV) is prevalent and pervasive, and you need to know the statistics.

  • Data shows that 20% of women are raped in their lifetime.
  • 1 in 3 women worldwide (more than 1 in 4 women in America) experiences physical violence from an intimate partner.
  • Men are also victims: 1 in 9 men will experience severe physical abuse by a partner in the US.
  • What’s even more alarming: The rate of intimate partner violence appears to be increasing. Preliminary research suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic increased both rates and severity of IPV worldwide in 2020. Click here to watch our webinar about the Shadow Pandemic.

2. Avoid playing the blame game. No one deserves to be intimidated, controlled, threatened, or physically injured by anyone — especially their partner. Please stop blaming the victim by searching for why the abuser did what they did. By pointing out the victim’s flaws, you are helping your readers blame the victim and making it that much harder to stop these crimes. It doesn’t matter what she did. She was harmed by the person she trusted most. That’s the story.

3. Do the right kind of research. We frequently hear local District Attorneys or police detectives say, “We don’t understand why this happened.” That’s probably not true. Research on intimate partner violence has been going on for more than 40 years. We do understand it. The chances are that the case you’re reporting is similar to other cases that have been studied. Find those stories. Good spots to start include NCADV, NNEDVThe Hotline. Avoid general forensic psychologists unless they have training in intimate partner violence. Instead, make friends with legitimate researchers who know the facts. Report on their data. Voices4Change can help connect you.

4. Pick up on patterns. Intimate partner violence doesn’t begin overnight. Your story should not be about a single incident. Instead, dig deep because abusive relationships have similar behavior patterns — including a rush to intimacy, isolation, jealousy, financial control, stalking, emotional abuse, and physical violence. Too often, these patterns often lead to lethal or near-lethal violence. Please report on these patterns so that more women will recognize them. Your story can save lives.

5. Intimate Partner Violence is about Power and Control, not black eyes and broken bones. Intimate partner homicide is frequently but not always predicated by physical violence. Up to 35% of intimate partner homicides have no previous history of physical abuse. However, nearly all have a significant history of controlling behavior. A good tool to better understand the dynamics is the Duluth Power & Control Wheel (pictured right), which the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project developed.

6. Don’t ask, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” Research confirms that the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when it ends. Women are more likely to be killed when leaving than at any other time in the relationship. Report on this fact, and encourage women to contact a domestic violence advocate trained to create safety planning strategies so victims can avoid homicide.

7. Don’t report, “He just snapped.” The majority of intimate partner murders are committed by men who are extremely controlling and have deliberately planned the violence they commit. Suggesting “he just snapped” diminishes the severity of the injury experienced by the victims. There is no evidence to suggest that mental illness — including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or depression — is linked to domestic violence. However, personality disorders such as narcissism, borderline personality, and sociopathy are related to perpetrators of homicide. Again, do your research on the perpetrator to understand the real story fully.

8. Be clear: It is the guns that kill. Yes, people kill using guns. But, despite that popular slogan, research shows that guns in the home increase the likelihood of a homicide by 500%. All too often, children, friends, other family members — and even pets — are killed. Frequently, the perpetrator also turns the gun on himself. What’s more, most mass shootings are perpetrated by men with a history of domestic violence. Usually, one of those victims is an ex-wife or ex-girlfriend. 

9. Believe it or not, strangulation is a precursor to murder. I had a hard time getting my head around this, too, but it is widespread and a huge predictor of lethal domestic violence for a perpetrator to strangle his victim for months, if not years, before killing her. Research tells us that women who have been strangled by their partners are 750% to be killed by them. If she survives, the long-term physical consequences can be devastating, ranging from lifelong physical injuries to permanent brain damage. Please let your readers know they are not alone if they have been strangled; encourage them to seek help.

10. Think bigger. Don’t underestimate this epidemic. I have read too many reports of domestic abuse that want readers to know that women kill, too. Yes, it happens. But, again, study statistics. More than 90% of perpetrators of intimate partner homicide are men. When we talk about the minority of violence by women, we deflect the responsibility. In fact, women who kill their intimate partners are frequently victims of violence by those partners. And they are more likely to be under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Honestly, I beg you, realize that gender-based violence is often perpetrated by cultural norms, male privilege, and the devaluing of women and girls. The story you are writing is part of a much bigger problem. Go deep.

BONUS TIP: This is my final request for today. Please don’t interview the neighbors about how nice a guy was the man who just killed his wife then turned the gun on himself — and maybe took out a kid, grandpa, and the beagle. Who cares if the neighbor doesn’t think he did it because he was such a sweetheart to shovel her walk last year? Know this: Perpetrators of intimate partner violence aren’t typically viewed as malevolent by outsiders. Rather, they are frequently seen as very charming nice guys who wouldn’t hurt a fly. It’s their MO. They reserve their violent behavior for women and children behind closed doors. Know this, and do the right kind of research before you hit send to your editor. 

My gift to you: Watch Finding Jenn’s Voice for free. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and working with you to end domestic violence. Please send me an email, and my team will set it up.

About Tracy Schott: Tracy L. Schott, MSW, MS, is the producer and director of the 2015 award-winning documentary about intimate partner homicide, Finding Jenn’s Voice. Her experience as a social worker gave her unique insight into the experiences of the many victims of intimate partner violence she interviewed for this film. Her experience also helped her translate the work by the many researchers featured in the film and make that information accessible to everyone.

She has presented to audiences internationally on abusive relationships, pregnancy, and the media’s role in shaping the narrative on domestic violence. Tracy is uniquely qualified to tell this story. She received her MSW from the University of California – Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare in 1985. She practiced for fifteen years as a child and family therapist with many adult and child victims of abuse was the administrator of a women’s counseling center, and an adjunct faculty in Graduate Social Work.

After witnessing the power of television in shaping behavior and attitudes with her own children, Tracy decided to pursue her interest in creating social change through media. She obtained her MS in Telecommunications in 2000 from Kutztown University. Tracy is the founder of Schott Productions and has produced, written, and directed hundreds of projects, including short films, TV commercials, and content.