Buiten, D., & Coe, G. (2021). Competing discourses and cultural intelligibility: Familicide, gender and the mental illness/distress frame in news. Crime, Media, Culture: An International Journal, Online First.
Familicide – the killing of a partner and child(ren) – is a rare and complex crime that, when it occurs, receives intense media coverage. However, despite growing scholarly attention to filicide in the news, little research to date has looked at how familicide is represented. Situated at the intersection of filicide, intimate partner homicide and very often suicide, how the knotty and confronting issue of familicide is reported on is telling of the discourses available to understand complex forms of family violence. In this article, we argue that reporting on familicide mirrors broader feminist concerns about the tendency to frame fatal family violence at the hands of men in individualised terms – often as driven by mental illness – at the expense of an accounting of gender and power. Here, we seek to elaborate on and contextualise what we call the mental illness/distress frame as part of the broader tendency towards psychocentrism. This is amplified in cases of familicide where cultural signifiers for the increasingly publicly conceived of issue of ‘domestic violence’ are often not apparent, leading to popularised psychological explanations to be assumed. The mental health/distress frame operates not only to obscure the role of gender and power in domestic and family violence; it obscures the connection between gender, mental distress and violence, naturalising (and gender-neutralising) mental distress and violence as a response to it. We argue that intersecting discourses – of gender, age, disability and the heterosexual nuclear family, for instance – operate in important ways to suggest, support and rationalise this frame. We illustrate these ideas through a detailed case study analysis of news reporting on a case of familicide in Sydney, Australia.
domestic violence, familicide, family murder, family violence, gender, media, news, representations of mental illness