Language Matters: Oscar Pistorius Coverage Edition

[Content Note: Domestic violence; guns.]

Yesterday, in the thread about Oscar Pistorius having allegedly murdered Reeva Steenkamp, Shaker ellen made this excellent observation about coverage of the crime, which I am sharing on the main page with her permission:
I'm very troubled by what's happening with the word "domestic" in these reports. The police said that there had been "allegations of a domestic nature." No. "Domesticity" means eating meals, doing dishes, taking out the trash; baking cookies, hanging curtains, walking the dog. Assault, aggression, terror, and murder are not part of what "domestic" means. Saying that there had been previous allegations "of a domestic nature" is asking us to expand our definition of "domestic" to include repeated violent assault.

In an effort to pretty up reality, the police have edited the word "violence" out of the phrase "domestic violence," expecting us to understand that when they say "domestic," they mean "domestic violence." They're asking us to agree that being threatened and assaulted are just another element of being domestic. When police and media speak this way, they help the physical violence to make wide ripples of linguistic and cognitive violence.
Being precise about what really happened in this case will be increasingly important, as Pistorius has been formally charged with murdering Reeva Steenkamp, and prosecutors believe it was premeditated murder. Steenkamp was reportedly found behind a bathroom door and police had been "called to the house two hours before the shooting after neighbors complained of a loud argument."

Relatedly, I had this exchange on Twitter yesterday afternoon:

Oscar Pistorius killed his girlfriend in a domestic dispute.

Oscar Pistorius murdered Reeva Steenkamp, who was dating Pistorius, in an act of domestic violence.

Same information. One doesn't seek to mitigate the heinous nature of the crime, nor disappears the victim, nor treats Steenkamp like Pistorius' property, nor regards, in ellen's words, "being threatened and assaulted [as] just another element of being domestic."

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus