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Friday, October 30, 1998
Houston, Texas
Volume 64, Issue 49

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About the Cougar

Defining the media's role on domestic violence

By Sonal Patel
Daily Cougar Staff 

In recognition of National Domestic Violence Awareness month, the International Telecommunications Research Institute presented a panel discussion Wednesday on whether the media is the solution or part of the problem of domestic violence.

"I've got good news and bad news," said Juergen Dankwort of the UH Graduate School of Social Work. "There is a heightening awareness of domestic violence. In a survey of 1,000 Texans, 95 percent agreed it was a serious problem. The bad news is that domestic violence is still prevalent.

"One-fourth of all American families are affected by domestic violence, and 600,000 women are abused annually," he said. "Moreover, it's hard to say if it is on the increase, because six out of seven domestic violence occurrences go unreported."

Members of the panel discussion included ITRI Co-director and UH School of Communication Professor David Donnelly, Dankwort, UH School of Communication Professor Beth Olson, Houston-Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council member Arthuryne Dailey and Houston Chronicle reporters Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje and Claudia Feldman.

Dankwort said the victims of domestic violence are disproportionately women, the issue is one of gender. While less than 20 percent of domestic homicide victims are men, 50 percent are women.

Olson, who teaches courses on gender and the media and media effects, attributed the causes of violence to children's socialization.

"The American Psychological Association blamed the media for aggression in society, when in fact the media is either the third or fourth immediate factor that would influence an individual to be aggressive," she said.

Olson said there are several communication and social theories that affect individuals -- for example, the social learning theory says that people eventually learn what they see other people do.

This includes the media's influence. However, Olson said an individual is more influenced by his or her parents, siblings, peers and adults in social institutions, like teachers.

"There are some media forms that are directly destructive," Olson said. "For example, the 'slasher films' that are extremely violent and that are basically watched by many men.

"After viewing violence, one's body reacts accordingly, and the need to release this physiological buildup may lead to aggression," she said. "Other forms of media include degrading advertising and television shows."

Dailey dismissed drug and alcohol abuse, as well as stress, as reasons to commit domestic violence.

"Abuse can come through psychological proliferation. It is learned and reinforced by societies, religious institutions and customs that tend to contend domestic violence," she said. "For example, take the woman who goes to the minister after being abused, only to be told she must stay and keep the family together."

Dailey said people must individually and collectively share the responsibility of preventing domestic violence.

"Even today, victims run the risk of being asked, 'What did you do to make your husband hurt you?'" she said. "The media can make a positive difference for people -- before we can change people's attitudes, we must educate them about this problem."

The two Chronicle reporters said it is difficult for the press to pursue an issue as serious as domestic violence while writing stories from a fresh angle that compels and involves readers.

"There are certain details we may leave out, and we encourage people to tell us their stories. We can help, but newspaper politics makes it complicated for us," Stoeltje said.

Though invited, the electronic media did not have a representative. However, ITRI honored Annette Gonzalez from KHOU-TV and Susan Lennon from KPRC-TV with the Agora Awards, which recognize contributions to the community's awareness of domestic violence.

"Domestic violence month will end on Oct. 31; however, it still remains a problem," Dankwort said. "We must realize that, although aggression is socially constructed, it is individually willed."

The discussion was co-sponsored by the UH School of Communication, the Bertha Capen Reynolds Society and the UH women's studies program.
 

Reach Patel at
spatel6@bayou.uh.edu.
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