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The media refuse to name male violence against women in their reporting – and this harms our society

Two men whose mother and sister were murdered by their father have written a new book to improve awareness of the gendered nature of domestic abuse and how it should be viewed as a national and international health crisis. RUTH HUNT reports

LUKE and Ryan Hart were both working abroad when the news came through that their much-loved younger sister Charlotte and mother Claire had been murdered by their father who had then turned the murder weapon on himself. 

Two years later and the brothers have written Operation Lighthouse, which looks at events leading up to the double murder — the life the family were forced to live, with their father using various methods of coercive control.

In particular, Luke and Ryan focus on the role the media played in the aftermath and how this can feed into constructs of masculinity, endangering women and children. 

For example, following the murder of their sister and mother, the two brothers found that the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail had spoken to people who knew their father who said he was “a nice guy” who was “always caring.”

Other journalists tried to “explain away” his actions by looking at his childhood.

“We think that some in the media don’t consider they are pushing a political agenda around gender violence. However, they are,” said the brothers. “We even saw some shocking reports written by women. They were referencing the male as the measure of things and neutral reference point. 

“By failing to comprehend the lives of the victims, we fail to acknowledge the effects of the crime and how we can help. 

“Many would still rather treat domestic abuse as an unfortunate anomaly rather than a fundamental thread of gender violence woven within our society’s values.”

With the focus on their father, rather than their sister and mother, the brothers read many news outlets that were concentrating on the murder/suicide letter — his last attempt to control the narrative.

“Domestic abuse and domestic homicide will never be understood focusing on the murderer,” they say. 

“Men kill because they choose to. Men kill the women close to them regularly and with impunity, yet women rarely kill the men in their lives. 

“The issue is clearly gendered and these crimes need to be treated for what they are — patterns of male behaviour, not isolated incidents. By failing to do this, the media is actively gendering its reporting. 

“This is highly significant because we know why men are so violent and kill — it’s due to their beliefs, not their emotions. The media has a powerful conditioning role and if it fails in this it can normalise male violence and support its enabling beliefs.

“Alongside the default male perspective of the following reporting, much of the narrative is coerced by the murderer’s words, the only words available.” 

The brothers add: “Operation Lighthouse is the victims’ note that was never left. It’s our mother’s and sister’s story. It’s us amplifying the voices of victims everywhere. It’s men speaking out against men, shining a light on life growing up under a murderer and the dangerous prevalent myths around domestic abuse which serve to perpetuate it.”

In Operation Lighthouse, Luke and Ryan make the link between men who are domestic abusers using coercive control with constructs regarding masculinity. They write that these constructs not only put women and children in danger but also can be damaging to men.

“We need to deconstruct ideas of ‘men’ and ‘women.’ We arbitrarily limit our lives based on these preconceived ideas of how we should behave based on our gender.  

“However, we’re preventing both males and females from living the full spectrum of humanity, eking out only a restrictive portion to each. One of the main problems with masculinity is its inherent hatred of femininity; the idea that the feminine is ‘weak,’ to be controlled and dominated. 

“This insistence on domination and control means many males don’t feel like men. Instead, they feel the need to become violent and aggressive to assert their control, with vast numbers of women and children reeling from the consequences. It’s absurd and causes everyone harm, even the violent men themselves. It needs to stop, now.”

The brothers believe more men need to learn about the harm caused by the fetters of masculinity. They want more men to join the cause of feminism and deconstruct these cages.

People have a duty to take on board their responsibilities to raise awareness, reduce stigma and point those suffering coercive control towards services that can help. 

The brothers said: “One of the important messages we hope the book conveys is that we all have a responsibility to stop domestic abuse. It’s not a ‘private family issue.’ Instead, given the way it is currently approached, it’s a national and international women’s health crisis with socially condoned gender violence.

“Victims are often isolated from the world by the abuser, their resources are stolen, and they are trapped in a narrative cage where the perpetuator becomes the only voice in their lives.  

“Within families, the purest patriarchy and most dangerous masculinity are suffered, where it’s malignant hierarchy can be enforced with impunity, away from the view of a distracted society.

“This should be our focus,” Luke and Ryan stress. “It’s where the next generations of abusers are bred. Where silenced women and children are dominated and killed. Therefore, we all need to reach out and make the efforts to understand why this is happening. We all need to be a lighthouse for others to guide them to safety.”

Ryan and Luke Hart are the authors of Operation Lighthouse which can be ordered in at all good bookshops. You can follow the authors at twitter.com/CoCoAwareness. Ruth F Hunt is a freelance journalist and author.

Further resources

Refuge 
www.refuge.org.uk 
Women’s Aid 
www.womensaid.org.uk
The National Domestic Violence Helpline 
0808 2000-247
White Ribbon Campaign 
www.whiteribbon.org.uk

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