In 2007 in Mexico, the General Law on Women's Right to a Life Free of Violence (LGAMVLV) was published, a legal strategy with which the State sought to address feminicide. Ten years later, in 2017, the statistics showed an increase in crime against women at the hands of men for gender related reasons with 671cases, while in 2015 and 2016, 389 and 588 were counted respectively (SESNSP, 2018).
Research on feminicide in Mexico is based on two contexts: how feminism confronts patriarchy through the identification of gender violence (Amorós, 1992; Lagarde, 1990), and the paradigmatic case of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico: during 1993, 12 women were killed and thrown in different parts of the city as if they were garbage (Gallur, 2014; Wright, 2011). In both situations, it is possible to identify that the victim is waste in this process, the disposable piece, and those who dominate the scene are men (Segato, 2013).
Feminicide involves the murder of a woman at the hands of a man because she is a woman (Caputi & Russell, 1990) and it represents the end of a continuum of anti-female terror that includes a wide variety of verbal and physical abuse (Radford & Russell, 1992; Monárrez, 2010). From a legal perspective, feminicide is defined as an extreme form of gender violence against women that occurs as a result of the violation of their human rights, and which happens in public and private spheres (LGAMVLV, 2007). The law in Mexico focuses more on strategies of persecution and punishment of those responsible for the acts of violence against women, than on demanding the elimination of messages that blame or stigmatize the victim from the media (Rodríguez, 2010).
Several factors converge in violence against women: misogyny, sadistic sexuality, and the social construction of masculinity (Caputi, 1987; Vallejo, 2002) which are ratified in court trials and represented in the media (Radford, 2006). There is a hierarchical language and a pyramidal organization (Segato, 2013) which reflects attitudes and values congruent with an androcentric discourse, which represents the domain and consolidation of the webs of power to maintain social control (Foucault, 1999).
The media play a fundamental role as strategists of change towards a society without gender discrimination. The reasons of a subjective nature, for which the murders are carried out, are explained by the perpetrator or by witnesses who knew the victim and talked to the press; the dead woman cannot defend herself or give her version of the facts (Monárrez, 2010). This content is not presented as a social problem of interest to the public, instead, only information on individual cases prevails (Rodríguez, 2008).
Commonly, such violence is attributed to individual dysfunction, to a drunk and angry attacker, to the volatile nature of love, to the alcoholic or the drug addict (Lagos, 2008), or to the creation of a tragic cultural hero. Many feminicide-suicides are explained as ambiguous homicide-suicides or as mysteries, not as domestic or gender-based violence (Richards, Gillespie, & Smith, 2014). Factors such as poverty, irrationality, and passivity are mentioned in relation to the victims of feminicide: in a patriarchal world they are defined as equivocal, bad women, sick, disabled, rare, failed, and crazy (Lagarde, 1990). An image is created between what a good woman and a bad one are, which is mediated by prejudices and assessments (Alcocer, 2014; Lagos, 2008).
In addition, for Shoemaker and Reese (1996) the article’s presentation is conditioned by the journalist’s gender, the writing is permeated by the gender, ethnicity, education and sexual orientation of the writer (Berkowitz & Liu, 2014). It is notorious that in a staff of reporters there are more men than women, and the articles on feminicide are informed predominantly by male reporters (Danés, 2017; Niemi & Pitkanen, 2016). In addition to this, Point J of the Beijing Platform highlights the neglect of the issue of gender by the persisting stereotypes in the media (UN, 1995).
In this case, framing (Benton & Frazier, 1976; Guo, Tien, & McCombs, 2012; Miranda & Iglesias, 2015) as a theoretical approach is used to propose the study of language in the news reports and the context of the news. The frames are interpreted as macro-attributes that allow defining a problem of the event and interpreting its causes (McCombs, 2004; Scheufele & Tewksbury, 2007). The definitions of a situation are constructed by organizational principles that govern social events and our involvement in them (Ardèvol-Abreu, 2015).
On framing and gender violence, Meyers (1994) research findings showed that the victim was blamed directly with an adverse profile: failure to report previous assaults, infidelity, or inappropriate behaviour with men; also, as indirect blame: by highlighting positive attributes of the aggressor. Bullock and Cubbert (2002) investigated that reporters portrayed the perpetrators as a different kind of people: violence only happens to certain people who are part of other cultures and of a lower social class; there was drug and alcohol use before the act of violence; the perpetrators were excused as self-defending. Gillespie et al. (2013) identified that the reporting focuses more on the criminal past than on the present feminicide case. While Fagoaga (1994) argues that gender violence is classified as a crime of passion, in doing so, it becomes a stereotyped causal relationship. The news reports focus on the perpetrator due to mental or physical illness (Taylor, 2009).
In this study, we analyse how journalistic texts address language on the issue of feminicide about victims and perpetrators or alleged perpetrators, in particular, we investigate: 1) What language journalists use to refer to victims and perpetrators; 2) The gender of the journalist and how it relates to the type of language used; and, 3) How these newspapers report the victims and the perpetrators of a feminicide.
Data and methodology
The universe studied includes all news reports related to feminicide and gender violence published in 2017. “La Jornada” published 348 notes (20.7%), “El Universal” 549 (32.7%), “Milenio”, 525 (31.3%), and “Reforma”, 257 (15.3%). There were about 1,679 texts (100%) (Table 1). These are national circulation newspapers and have the qualities of elite newspapers (Merrill, 1968). They represent an ideological plurality: “La Jornada”, the left; “El Universal”, centre; “Reforma”, the right (Rodelo & Muñiz, 2016; Durán, 2009) and; “Milenio”, moderate left centre (Nájera, 2007). In relation to daily print run: “Reforma”, prints 1,388,875; “El Universal”, 119,429; “La Jornada”, 131,355, and; “Milenio”, 99,827 (PNMI, 2019).
Content analysis was used (Krippendorff, 2004; Riffe, Lacy, & Frederick, 2005; Wimmer & Dominick, 2011) through an inductive approach, a priori, to construct analysis categories with information from the news reports and research questions. Content analysis is a study and analytical method of communication: it is systematic, objective, and quantitative, and measures certain variables (Wimmer & Dominick, 2011); it is also used to analyse information from a qualitative approach (Krippendorff, 2006).
The unit of analysis of the study was defined as news reports which mention victims and perpetrators or alleged perpetrators of feminicides. In the beginning, a census of all the news reports relating to feminicide and gender violence was carried out. From there, the texts that focused on victims and perpetrators were selected (Table 1). A census should include all groups, classes of subjects or objects, concepts, or phenomena of a universe or population (Wimmer & Dominick, 2011).
In this case, the information of all the texts which met the criteria of the universe was collected; however, only those which met the criteria were analysed, 360, of which 52 (14.4%) were articles from “La Jornada”, 134 (37.12%) from “El Universal”, 110 (31.02%) from “Milenio” and 64 (17.46%) from “Reforma”. Approximately, 742 information pages in total. In the cases of “Milenio” and “La Jornada”, the news reports were selected from their respective websites; those from “El Universal" and “Reforma” were gathered via “ProQuest", which was accessed through Tecnológico de Monterrey’s digital library.
The advanced search tool from “Reforma” was used with the search prompts: Publication Identification (PUBID) (32,652) AND (Woman OR girl OR young) AND (murdered OR homicide OR dead OR feminicide OR crime). In the case of "El Universal", the search was: PUBID (47,134) AND (Woman OR girl OR young) AND (murdered OR homicide OR dead OR feminicide OR crime); the search covered 2017 in general and by months. To access “La Jornada”, a link that was in the newspaper website was used, which in turn took you to the Google Search engine through the website of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) (https: // bit.ly/2r16GoB). The criteria adopted were: (Jan. 2017) AND (Woman OR girl OR Young) AND (murdered OR homicide OR dead OR feminicide OR crime).
With respect to “Milenio”, the search was done directly on its website (https://bit.ly/32Vg8al), and (January.2017 Feminicide) was the search prompt. Searches were carried out each month with different words. As can be seen, three different search methods were applied, the newspapers were not accessible through the same platform, and “Reforma” and "El Universal" are subscription-based. On the other hand, not every news report from the required dates was available from “La Jornada” and “Milenio” via “ProQuest”. The greatest difficulty was with “La Jornada” because its digitalization process began after mid-2017; the files accessible via its platform were the printed version, without the capacity to search the text. All the information collected was analysed with the Nvivo 12 software.
Journalistic language and texts
Categories were developed after reading news articles with the research topic in mind, regarding the way in which victims and perpetrators are presented in the Mexican written press in feminicide reporting. From the analysis of the journalistic texts, four categories emerged: narrative of feminicide (48%), justifying the perpetrator or alleged perpetrator (33%), social issues (16%) and blaming the victim (3%), which are made up of a series of subcategories (Figure 1).
Narrative of feminicide
1) The fact: The murder of a woman at the hands of a man and/ or its follow-up. In this sense, some articles only mention the facts or part of the judicial process. “Her relatives found Carmen's lifeless body inside her bedroom at Juárez Pantitlán District, with strangulation marks. The body was lying on the bed covered with blankets, as if she were asleep, and her husband, the presumed culprit, had already escaped” (“Reforma”, December 26th, 2017).
2) The fact and/ or the follow-up contain elements such as statistics, other cases, laws, sanctions or penalties. The articles include legal language which mention the punishment for committing feminicide, the legal process, and what the law states about it. “Mexico City’s Superior Court of Justice informed that the sentenced person must pay 365,200 pesos for damages and 4,382 pesos for funeral expenses” (“Milenio”, April 27th, 2017). Feminicide statistics that put in context the situation of the municipality where the crime was committed are mentioned, or those where there is a recount of all the recent cases, this is done to present the problem as more complex than just an isolated event. “The woman showed marks of violence, and according to the first testimonies, the attacker was her romantic partner, who fled the house. Griselda was last seen on Sunday, April 30th, at her home... According to civil society organizations, 42 feminicides have been registered in the Oaxaca entity so far this year” (“El Universal”, May 07th, 2017).
Justification of the perpetrator
It is acknowledged that the man is responsible for the murder of a woman. However, indirectly, the woman is also to blame. This happens when the articles highlight positive aspects of the perpetrator, which put his responsibility into question.
Some of the features that stand out are a justification because of an argument, quarrel or fight; these are followed by reporting drug use, alcohol abuse, and mental disease. “The Attorney General Office suspects Jorge Luis, and still does not rule out feminicide. All because, while drunk, the 29-year-old man admitted that he had drunk alcohol and taken drugs near the School of Chemistry and that they had had an argument. He added that the victim was called Lesby, 22 years old, with whom he had lived for four months” (“Reforma”, May 05th, 2017).
Anger, rage, love, and jealousy are recurring themes for justifying the perpetrator. “He killed her out of jealousy... Anayetzin Damaris was just over two months pregnant, and although there was a history of violence between them, they allowed her to approach him one last time to give him the news” (“El Universal”, November 17th, 2017).
In this category, other characteristics about the person who commits the crime are shown: he murdered a woman because he had economic problems and had no other alternative. Here the perpetrator is given a positive image, and he is described as a normal person on account of his behavior with other people besides the victim.
In addition, there is the man who after killing a woman tries to take his life; he is presented as a kind of suicidal, or failed suicidal, hero. “According to the Port’s Municipal Police, the woman’s neighbours reported violent acts in one of the houses and when the agents arrived, they noticed the crime. The husband had a knife and had tried to commit suicide by self-inflicting two wounds on his neck” (“El Universal”, November 1st, 2017).
On the other hand, in the news reports the perpetrator is mentioned as a man of merit for finally surrendering to justice, after first fleeing. “When I saw what I had done, I felt terrible; I went to my dad and explained to him what had happened. I could not take it anymore and turned myself in to the police” (“El Universal”, October 30th, 2017).
Some perpetrators are shown as a figure of normality, likeable and successful, someone who would be incapable of committing such a crime. “The Investigative Police in Mexico City seeks Mario Sáenz for his alleged responsibility in the murder of his girlfriend, Victoria Pamela Salas Martínez… considered by media outlets that have interviewed him as the best ‘skater’ in the capital” (“Milenio”, October 18th, 2017).
Concerning the category of social issues, the crimes against women are justified as part of a more general social violence, even though they may know who is responsible or they may even have him in custody, it is contextualized in an atmosphere of widespread violence, under the permissiveness and normalization by the authorities and other institutions.
The articles focus on the failures to provide security for the population and the ones of legal processes; the let-downs relating to violence in general, drug-dealing or women-trafficking, as well as by widespread impunity. To a lesser extent, there is a mention of gender roles and the incursion of women into spaces that are culturally perceived exclusively for males. There is criticism of the authorities and the way they acted is put into question.
Activist groups, specialists, experts, family members and acquaintances of the victims present most of the demands. “Criminal experts and lawyers specialized in gender violence ruled out that Lesvy's death, in a telephone booth in University City Campus on May 3rd, was a suicide, as stated by the Attorney General Office. The National Citizen Observatory [a Mexican civil organization] released a video yesterday in which it is shown that the conclusion of the expert opinions of the PGJ [Attorney General Office] does not coincide with the position in which the 22-year-old was found” (“Reforma”, August 4th, 2017).
Feminicide is considered as collateral damage of organized crime, in all its forms, thus the perpetrator disappears in the background, and the violent atmosphere becomes both the protagonist and the one responsible. “Mother and daughter were shot dead at their home in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, after raising a family brawl early yesterday... He explained that this wave of violence suffered by the city from March of 2016 to date, with the increase in homicides in the style of organized crime, from October last to March this year, add up to 800 dead” (“La Jornada", March 3rd, 2017).
The lack of haste in investigations is seen as a reflection of frequent impunity. It is referred to as part of the social fatigue generated by the role played by the authorities. “Relatives and colleagues of Verónica Guadalupe Benítez Vega... demanded the Attorney General of the State of Mexico (FGJEM) to solve this feminicide, and not give ‘carte blanche’ to impunity" (“La Jornada", October 31st, 2017).
When victims are women in politics with greater relevance and presence than their husbands, or when they have a higher position than their co-worker romantic partner or in a lesser physical condition, then there are remarks of the activation of patriarchal mechanisms that lead to crime against some women. “The anger of some men at the professional and economic success of their [romantic] partners is reflected not only in that they are jealous because of the achievements of the women they live with, but with outbursts discrediting them. Besides the complaint that ‘they do not tend to their man’, tension arose that, in this case, seems to have turned into rage, said the Professor in Sociology” (“El Universal”, November 07th, 2017).
Blaming the victim
The woman is responsible for her death. In this case, it is recognized that the man was the one who murdered her; however, mitigating circumstances are mentioned. She was unfaithful, had a bad temper, was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or she deserved it for working in a bad place.
Although this trend shows a lower percentage, the topics of violence, addiction, possessiveness, alcoholism, dependence, or introversion are aspects that are singled out. “As stated in the criminal court, for two years the two teachers had a relationship, but the man: ‘wanted to get rid of her because she was very possessive of him’. He wanted to leave her because he wanted to get married and have a family, but she would not allow it” (“El Universal”, July 2nd, 2017).
The crime against women for being unfaithful stands out in the category of blame. “Gilberto Morales Montemayor murdered his wife and threw the body into a ravine in Montemorelos, and indicated that he suspected she had been unfaithful" (“Milenio", December 21st, 2017).
Reporter's gender and its connection to the language they use
After identifying the way in which the articles address feminicide in relation to the language they use about victims and perpetrators or alleged perpetrators, the connection between the language used in the written press and the gender of the Journalist is also presented, as shown in Table 2.
In this breakdown it can be seen how the narration of the fact is focused on both male (14%) and female reporters (14%) and the news reports without the author’s name given (18.5%), that is, 46.5% of 48%. Female reporters (7%) and male reporters (6%), as well as the media (3%), provide 16% of the content on this category.
In the reporting where the victim is blamed, male reporters (1.5%) and the media (1%) have a higher percentage than female reporters (0.5%); the victim is judged, and negative aspects about her are mentioned; she is re-victimized because she was possessive, addicted, unfaithful, or an alcoholic. This category covers 3% in the news reports.
Way in which newspapers report victims and perpetrators
From the connection of the four newspapers with the four categories, it follows that the total of the news reports (172) represent 47% and mentions (182) 40% which fall in the category of narrative of feminicide. The newspapers with the highest density in the census are “El Universal” (134 news reports, 37%) and “Milenio” (110 news reports, 30.5%); in the category of the narrative of feminicide, “El Universal” (60 news reports) and “Milenio” (50) also present more than “La Jornada” (27) and “Reforma” (34). In general, the four newspapers present a larger tendency in this last category if compared to the other three (Table 3).
In the category justification of the perpetrator, regarding the news reports, “El Universal” (14%) and “Milenio” (11%) are above “La Jornada” (2%), “Reforma” has 7% of the total 34% total. In this category, in the relation of both news reports (118) and mentions (163) in "El Universal” the number is higher (48 and 79, respectively), which means that more mitigating factors which benefit the victimizer are mentioned, such as the quarrels, arguments, fights, and jealousy. In the category of social problems (58 news reports) which is connected to the context of violence, insecurity, short comings in the justice system and impunity, “La Jornada” (21 news reports) has a higher incidence and criticism prevails regarding these issues, while opposed to this, “Reforma” (4) has very few news in this category. Finally, on the category of blaming the victim, the condemnatory effect on women despite being the victim, 9 texts out of 12 appeared in “El Universal”.
Discussion and conclusions
The language of the texts provided several categories that open the range of characteristics within the news reports. Not only were previously explored facets identified, such as blaming the victim, justifying the perpetrator, or how the crimes against women were approached (Bullock & Cubbert, 2002; Danés, 2017; Gillespie et al., 2011; Gillespie et al., 2013; Meyers, 1994; Richards et al., 2014; Taylor, 2009), but others were also identified as narratives of the facts. The reason why narratives of the facts could be connected to the newspaper’s profile, all of which are of national circulation and considered elite news outlets. It could also be because the articles are published in sections such as “States”, “City” or “Metropolis”, which takes them away from the crime section, and of being considered “nota roja” [sensationalist crime news], presenting them as a social interest issue, which is part of what the gender perspective handbooks recommend. In this paper, we find the dichotomous aspects of the language Meyers (1994) mentions: blaming the victim and justifying the perpetrator, however, the ratio of blame is 3%, and the justification of the perpetrator is 34%, a figure that coincides with reports from other works (Danés, 2017). This caught our attention. It could be said that the media avoid re-victimization directly when dealing with the victim; nevertheless, they do it indirectly through justifying the perpetrator, which could be because the primary sources are official.
On the category of the journalist’s gender, the literature indicates that the male figure prevails (Danés, 2017; Niemi & Pitkanen, 2016). Male and female reporters write information according to different contexts (Berkowitz & Liu, 2014; Shoemaker & Reese, 1996). In this case, there is no gender difference of the reporter between the categories with the highest tendency, but there is when writing about the social issue’s category. Female reporters have more impact, which could suggest are more critical about security issues and the judicial system, and could be identified with a feminist trend; however, for the media workers, the recommendation of the Beijing Platform (UN, 1995) prevails, which indicates the importance of educating students with a gender perspective, with critical judgment and analytical ability, to produce better journalists.
In the analysis of the language used in the news reports, and the identified categories, it was found that 1) all newspapers have a high percentage of the category related to narratives of the facts; 2) “Milenio”, “El Universal”, and “Reforma” tend to justify the offender; 3) “La Jornada” focuses on social issues, the newspaper that does this the least is “Reforma”; while “Milenio” and "El Universal” present relatively similar numbers in so far as to that category. This suggests that newspapers reporting is connected to their ideological spectrum, especially in social issues; however, for this study, that was a limitation because the research does not get into this aspect. On blaming the victim and justifying the perpetrator the findings of this study are similar to those of Danés (2017), but different from the works of Alcocer (2014) and Lagos (2008), because the adjectives used by the newspapers when blaming the victim are few, but there are many of the perpetrators pointed out in most of the investigations.
In summary, the language of the texts about victims and perpetrators could be changing because 1) the profile of the newspapers could be contributing to the conformation of another set of attributes which do not present an emphasis on other studies; 2) to some extent there is a self-censorship by the media to omit certain language which blames the victims directly; 3) the work that is constantly carried out by the current of feminism and that is iterative helps to diminish the effect of blaming the victim directly; 4) part of justifying the perpetrators could come from official voices, mainly done through press releases; and 5) of the constant mention of international laws or regulations to counteract the negative effect of media coverage on the re-victimization of women. There are no clues regarding the causes why male and female reporters act in a certain way at the time of writing the information. That leaves the interview of those who write these news reports pending in order to know the aspects that they consider when addressing these issues. It would also be interesting to know how audiences receive this information and how they interpret and use it to refer to the issue of feminicide and victims and perpetrators, and thus be able to know how much the journalistic text is connected to the information that readers receive. 1