Sensationalism in crimes against women: Why are domestic violence cases under-reported in the Indian national media?

Though widespread, domestic violence cases don’t garner the same attention as other sensational crimes against women do.

Garima Sadhwani

Domestic violence cases in India are grossly under-reported, not only under the legal system, but through the media as well.

Amidst the Covid-19 induced lockdown in 2020, the National Commission for Women (NCW) stated that the number of domestic violence cases reported from the month of March to May was 2.5 times more than normal.

With a total of 1477 complaints, this was the highest number of cases reported between March and May (a period of 68 days) in the last decade. In a report in June 2020, The Hindu stated that 86% of women who are victims of domestic violence do not report it. Nearly 77% of these victims do not even talk about it with anyone.

Out of the 14.3% of women who were vocal about it, only seven per cent approached “relevant authorities” who could take action against the perpetrators. The rest of them reached out only to their families.

A study by Feminism in India indicated that emergencies, including pandemics, often put women at more risk than men. The increase in crimes against women has many underlying reasons.

A lot of people lost their jobs, or faced financial problems. Many faced withdrawal issues because they couldn’t consume alcohol or tobacco during the lockdown. Thus, many channeled their frustration through violence.  

Domestic violence cases did not suddenly spring up during the pandemic or the lockdown. Crime in India 2019, an annual report by the National Crime Records Bureau, stated that over 1.25 lakh domestic violence cases were reported in that year alone.

However, our national media seems to be averted from this. An article called “Understanding how the media reports crime” talks about how the national media carefully picks up topics and events based on how sensational they are.

For instance, The Wire mentions in a report that in 2020, between July 24 and July 29, Republic TV held 50 debates, out of which 45 were on the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide case, while important events like the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) and Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) students’ protests were considered worthy of just one discussion.

Similarly, when it comes to crimes against women, rape is given more prominence in news coverage because it is more sensational than domestic violence and gives the channels a better Television Rating Point.

A research paper titled “Contribution of Media to the Normalization and Perpetuation of Domestic Violence” talks about how the news media not only desensitises people to domestic violence through repeated coverage but many times, it also tends to portray the victim in a negative light.

This propagates the idea that the victim might have wronged the offender, and therefore deserved this treatment. This shows how news channels either don’t talk about domestic violence, or when they do, it is quite problematic.