When allegations Johnny Depp had physically and emotionally abused wife Amber Heard surfaced, sensationalist headlines and articles drawing on her financial position, delay in action, bisexuality, and his squeaky-clean relationship record gained attention.

Last week, when South Australian woman Adeline Rigney-Wilson and her two children were murdered, court documents revealing the slain woman would leave her kids to starve to fund her ice habit made their way to the top of news stories.

Last year, when 23-year-old Luke Lazarus was convicted of raping a young woman in the alleyway of a Kings Cross nightclub his father owned, the fact he was from a prominent Sydney family, and the social standing of his supporters were often given greater prominence in news stories than his victim's suffering.

Many reports around Adeline Rigney-Wilson's death focused on her drug use. Photo / Facebook
Many reports around Adeline Rigney-Wilson's death focused on her drug use. Photo / Facebook

In these examples, and there are more, the stories were successful in drawing readers in and grabbing attention, but woefully disappointed when it came to the responsible and effective reporting of violence against women.


It's because of stories like these Australia's peak organisation for preventing violence against women is calling for media outlets to lift their game when it comes to reporting on family violence.

The call follows the release of a new report littered with shameful examples from news outlets.

Thanks to advocates like Rosie Batty putting family violence on the agenda, the way female victims of violence are portrayed in the news has improved, but the research commissioned by advocacy group Our Watch and Australia's National Research Organisation for Women's Safety (ANROWS) shows there's still a long way to go.

In their report, researchers analysed thousands of print, online and broadcast stories and found victim blaming was still present in one in six articles on family violence.

Around 15 per cent of incident-based reporting was found to offer "excuses for the perpetrator", like "he was drinking", "using drugs" or "lost control", and few reports (4.3 per cent) offered help seeking information by directing their audience to a dedicated service.

Researchers acknowledged that treatment of family violence stories had improved, but acknowledging the influence of the media, said the report "highlights a few issues that remain a concern".

"Only 4.3 per cent of news reports included help seeking information, and 15 per cent of reporting implied the victim was in some way responsible for the violence inflicted upon her, such as 'she was drinking/flirting/went home with the perpetrator/was out alone/they were arguing/she didn't report previous incidents/did not leave'," lead researcher Georgina Sutherland said.

Our Watch chief executive Mary Barry said as violence against women had dominated headlines in recent years, many in the media industry were "contributing to a new era in the reporting of this issue".

"Time and time again, national and international research - including this report - tells us that the public is heavily influenced by the way violence against women is portrayed in the media," she said.

If you're in danger now:

• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you
• Run outside and head for where there are other people
• Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you
• Take the children with you
• Don't stop to get anything else
• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay

Where to go for help or more information:

• Women's Refuge: Free national crisisline operates 24/7 - 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and their children. Crisisline 24/7 0800 742 584
• Ministry of Justice: www.justice.govt.nz/family-justice/domestic-violence
• National Network of Stopping Violence: www.nnsvs.org.nz
• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent. www.whiteribbon.org.nz