Why media outlets need to rethink the way they report on femicide

Reporter at news or press conference, writing notes and holding a microphone. Photo courtesy of iStock.
Reporter at news or press conference, writing notes and holding a microphone. Photo courtesy of iStock. Photo credit: iStock

Gabby Petito’s disappearance — and later-confirmed death — caused a huge media outrage and made the front page of numerous international publications. Just weeks after the tragedy, Sabina Nessa, a Bangladeshi teacher in London, was making her way from home to meet a friend in South London. She, like Petito, never made it to her destination and was found buried under a pile of leaves the next morning by a man walking his dog.

The frequency of femicide is a global cause for concern. Hundreds of women go missing every day, in fact, every year about 66,000 femicide cases are recorded. However, most cases receive little attention. Only some of these cases make it to the limelight, and for women, seeing yet another woman fall victim to murder or abuse from a man, especially a spouse, stokes anger and fear, fear that is impossible to soothe when factors such as race and religion determine which femicide victim is worth media attention. The anger only augments itself when men in power turn a blind eye to such a global crisis. These racial and gender-based factors further divide us, creating animosity in a murder case that is in dire need of a resolution.

In regard to gender-based ignorance towards femicide, recently in the UK, the topic of femicide sparked a global discussion on whether misogyny should be legally considered as a hate crime. Dominic Raab, the UK deputy prime minister and justice secretary stated “I think insults and misogyny is absolutely wrong whether it’s a man against a woman or a woman against a man,” in an interview with BBC Breakfast, shifting blame from the men who have committed these crimes by implying that everyone participates in femicide.

This delusional statement, which is one of many, continues blinding the very politicians in charge of women’s safety in terms of legislative action. In the wake of Wayne Couzens’ recent life sentencing for his crimes of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering 33-year-old Sarah Everard in March, 80 more reports of femicide within the span of 28 weeks, all committed by men, have been brought to the forefront of British media outlets.

The total amount of femicides in the UK in 2021 alone surpasses 100. But men who refuse to see femicide as a gender-targeted hate crime, in-denial men like Dominic Raab and many others who victim-blame, downplay murder when a woman is the victim and a male is the killer. Discrimination plays a biggrt a part in the reporting of femicide cases than the actual crime itself. What is wrong with the world?

In the past few years, femicide awareness in the media and online has significantly increased. The United Nations Women Chapter recently organized 16 days of activism against femicide and hate crimes against women. Both men and women across the world have spoken out against racial and sexist discrimination and joined activist movements such as #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, #StopAsianHate and #SayHerName, among others. However, despite the constant cries for public attention and cultural recognition, the media fails to properly report on or even acknowledge crimes against minority groups, causing their suffering to go unnoticed, unheard and ignored.

Initially, Nessa’s case failed to garner much media attention. But some unhappy people of color and feminists took to their Twitter accounts to share their disappointment. One user commented “Page 25!!!”, lamenting how the United Kingdom (UK) media failed to give the case the attention it deserved and placed the murder story on the twenty-fifth page, while the murder of Petito continued to dominate headlines weeks after her body was found. It was outrageous to many that a case like this wasn’t deemed important enough by the UK media to be put on the first page.

Since then, Nessa’s disappearance has garnered attention on social media, a step in the right direction for equal coverage of femicide. However, most outlets and social media posts have spoken of her case in comparison to Petito’s case. It is important and saddening, to question whether the case would be getting the same attention if Petito had not gone missing in the first place.

This case has opened the floodgates of enmity on the media and its coverage of white victims of femicide. Eminent personalities like Jameela Jamil have tweeted that the “same energy and level of outrage” must be demanded when people of color are murdered. Black and brown women are deemed less worthy of coverage and the significance of their death is diminished. The media needs to be held accountable for their biased coverage and all victims deserve equal attention, attention that in some cases could help bring perpetrators to justice. The outlets that hold one case at higher value than another are taking away from the real culprit, and it’s not race, but the murderer himself.