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Coverage of Tragic Mall Shooting in Maryland Promotes Myths about Domestic Violence

January 25, 2014

Coverage of Today’s Mall Shooting in Maryland Shows Need to Address Language and Myths Related to Gun-related Domestic Violence

January 25, 2014 – The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) is shocked and saddened to hear the news reports about the tragic shooting at the Columbia Mall in Maryland that resulted in three deaths and multiple injuries today.

Several news outlets have reported that this violence occurred as a part of a “domestic dispute,” [1][2] though the Howard County Police Department neither confirms nor denies this assertion, explaining via Twitter that the “Motive of shooting is unknown. Not determined to be domestic or any other cause at this time. Any other reports are complete speculation.” [3]

The media continues to speculate that today’s shooting was the heartbreaking result of a “domestic dispute.” While the shooter’s motive remains unknown as of this writing, the media has the responsibility to use language and terminology that adequately reflects the reality of this case.

A violent double homicide should never be called a “domestic dispute.” Calling abusive, violent, threatening, or lethal behavior “disputes” or “fights” – as if both parties are equally involved – redirects attention away from the abuser’s actions and minimizes the life-threatening danger of domestic violence.

“Referring to any murder as a possible domestic ‘dispute’ is unconscionable,” said Cindy Southworth, NNEDV Vice President. “We would never call a mass shooting a ‘mass dispute’ or a terrorist attack as a terrorist ‘dispute’.”

As facts regarding this case come to light, the criminal justice system will take action to ensure that justice is served. The media, however, plays a vital role in naming the reality and shaping our public dialogue.

NNEDV calls on media outlets to cover domestic violence accurately.

[1] NBC Washington, “Three Dead, Four Hurt in Columbia Mall Shooting”–241962941.html?_osource=SocialFlowTwt_DCBrand

[2] CNN, “Three reported killed in shooting at Maryland mall,”

[3] Howard County Police Department, 3:39 PM, January 25, 2014,