When will the media stop portraying violence against women as 'crimes of passion'?


Note: Readers are advised that this article contains reference to the names of an Aborginal person who has died.

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In the early hours of Sunday morning, in the university town of Geneseo, NY, a man entered a house armed with a large knife and stabbed two of the occupants to death. Colin Kingston, a former student of the local university where his victims were students, then called his father to tell him what he had done and to let him know he planned to kill himself as well.

By the time police arrived on the scene, Kingston was dead. He had taken his own life after callously murdering two others - a 21 year old woman named Kelsey Annese and a 24 year old man named Matthew Hutchinson. Annese and Kingston had dated for three years but recently broken up. Hutchinson is thought to have been unknown to Kingston.

Whichever you look at this, it was a revenge killing. One man falls into a state of depression and anxiety following the loss of his relationship and instead of trying to move on from his former partner, he decides to murder her and then take his own life. Suicide is always a tragedy, and Kingston's friends have revealed he expressed suicidal thoughts in the wake of his break up. But murder-suicides are something different altogether. To rob the person you claim to have loved of their life because you can no longer have them is one of the clearest expressions of entitlement that exists on the spectrum of men's violence against women. That Hutchinson, a man wholly unconnected with Kingston aside from being perceived as perhaps a replacement for him, was also targeted is doubly tragic.

24-year-old Colin Kingston who murdered his former girlfriend Kelsey Annese, 21, before committing suicide.

24-year-old Colin Kingston who murdered his former girlfriend Kelsey Annese, 21, before committing suicide. Photo: Facebook

And yet, once again there is evidence of news outlets framing this as a tragedy of lost love and the archetypal 'crime of passion'. I first read this story on News Limited's online portal, underneath the astonishing headline, "Did a broken heart lead Colin Kingston to kill two people?"


While it may indeed be true that Kingston was devastated by the end of his relationship, it is in no way acceptable to present a situation in which a 'broken heart' alone would lead to a double murder. To ask this only contributes to the thinking which poses emotional response - and men's emotional response in particular, especially when it comes to gendered killings - as some kind of understandable caveat for criminal homicide.

What led Kingston to murder his ex girlfriend and the man who was with her at the time was Kingston's belief that she belonged to him and/or that she had harmed him so egregiously by refusing to continue their relationship that she deserved to be punished.

Kelsey Annese

Kelsey Annese Photo: Keith Walters/SUNY Geneseo

The NY Daily News, which has been otherwise hitting major goals lately with its headlines, contributed to this narrative of the Damaged Man by announcing, "'Distraught' ex boyfriend stabs two SUNY Geneseo students to death, kills himself in house near campus". While characterised by less romanticised apologism than the News.com headline, the inclusion of the word 'distraught' (which was taken from a quote in the piece) still suggests some kind of temporary insanity must have driven him to it, fuelled by the trauma that comes from a failed relationship.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Damaged Man narrative without the accompanying character reference from a colleague or coach. News' report quoted Kingston's former basketball coach, Rich Miles, speaking to journalists from the Democrat and Chronicle. Miles said, "He was always a kid that worked hard. I never had any problems with him at all. He seemed like one of those kids to me that would do wel no matter what because he had that work ethic and good attitude."

The leeway that is given to men (and white, middle class men in particular) when it comes to murdering people they are supposed to love is incredible. Similar attempts to run the Damaged Man script were enacted a few weeks ago, when Port Lincoln man, Damien Little, shot his two sons and then himself before driving all three of them off the Brennan wharf. Subsequent news reports repeatedly described him as a 'loving father' and a 'good bloke'. Journalists seemed to bend over backwards to avoid highlighting the correlation between his actions and his sons' deaths. Reports following the trio's funerals this week referred to Little as a man who "took his own life and those of his sons".

Murder victim Matthew Hutchinson

Murder victim Matthew Hutchinson Photo: redit Keith Walters/SUNY Geneseo

Why is it so difficult to accept that men from 'good families' with pleasant dispositions and a talent for sport might also be the kinds of narcissists who kill women or children?

Writer Ruby Hamad recently observed that the difference between how white men and men of colour are treated in our society can be seen in the ways they are discussed after they die. Murderers like Colin Kingston and Damien Little are remembered as 'good, hard working team players' driven to kill because of the deep depression and sadness swirling inside them. But murdered men like Michael Brown and Eric Garner are immediately painted as thugs and thieves. Even the murders of boys like Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and T.J Hickey are met with perverse applause from a public that still wants to believe race is a justifiable factor in profiling criminality and are thus content to argue for justifiable cause in taking definitive action to stop them.

The confluence of race, gender and class has always resulted in certain people being given a greater benefit of doubt when it comes to their crimes. The myth of the Damaged Man is a potent one, but it only ever results in the supposed pain of perpetrators being prioritised above the value of the lives of the women and children they kill.