One of the biggest stories this week is the murder of three young children by their mother. Lauren Dickason, her husband and three children – twins, aged 2, and their sister, just 6 – recently moved to Timaru, New Zealand from South Africa. Lauren is a general practitioner; her husband Graham, an orthopaedic surgeon, landed a job in New Zealand and the five arrived in the country about a month ago. Last Thursday night, according to media reports, Graham came home to find his wife had strangled and killed their children, allegedly using cable ties. Lauren Dickason has already appeared in court once; she will remain in custody at a forensic mental health unit until October 5, when she’s due back in court.
Media coverage of the crime has thrown double standards in reporting into sharp relief. For instance, Canadian broadcaster CTV News tweeted a photo of the family’s SA nanny, a black woman, under the headline: “Mother charged with murdering her three daughters”. In SA much of the coverage has leaned heavily towards finding excuses for Lauren Dickason’s actions: many outlets are referring to what is, in law, a crime, as “the tragedy”. One outlet quoted a source saying: “The nicest person it could happen to is that woman”, as if she were the victim.
Lauren Dickason was previously on chronic medication but stopped it ahead of the family’s move, apparently out of fear that it could be used against her visa process. It is not yet known what she was treating, but commentators latched onto mental health, hinting she may have come under stress due to the move and the strict quarantine measures New Zealand imposes on travellers.
Now consider the tale of another “killer woman”, Rosemary Ndlovu.
The former cop, a black woman, is in the dock here at home for ordering multiple hits on family members to cash in on their life policies. There have been no think pieces on what led to her actions, or attempts to excuse or understand what she did. And previous instances of filicide (mums killing their kids) involving black families haven’t received nearly the same volume of coverage – nor garnered the same attempts to explain away the crimes. A similar debate is raging in the US at the moment.
We’re not suggesting that any one life matters more than another. What is crucial, though, is that the media doesn’t engage in the sorts of double standards that make one killer a helpless victim and the other a vicious villain.