Media Pivotal in Changing Attitudes Around Domestic Violence

The media play a critical role in how we understand and process violence against women. The case of Dr. Elana Fric highlights the double standard and class and gender biases that accompany reporting on violence against women. For women of colour and indigenous women the situation is more pronounced. The media can and must do better.

Media Pivotal in Changing Attitudes Around Domestic Violence

The killer of Dr. Elana Fric is up for sentencing today. Dr. Fric was a respected and beloved family Toronto physician who was brutally murdered by her husband, her body found in a suitcase by the Humber River. Her killer tried to deflect attention from himself when he reported her missing and by casting doubt upon a colleague with whom she was romantically involved. He maintained his innocence right up until the date of his trial, where he entered a guilty plea, admitting what everyone suspected: that he killed his wife during an argument upon discovering she was leaving him.

The media coverage immediately following the discovery of Dr. Fric’s body focused on the killer’s stellar reputation as a neurosurgeon, with many expressing shock and disbelief that a man of his standing and reputation could be capable of killing his wife. The media has sensationalized this particular instance of femicide in a way that suggests the random, shocking, nature of the crime. However, while every instance is itself shocking, domestic violence is not a random crime.

A woman or girl is killed in Canada every 2.5 days. This statistic holds true over 40 years of data according to the groundbreaking report from the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, #CallItFemicide, Femicide in Canada, 2018. This comprehensive report shines a light on the murders of 148 women and girls who were killed in 2018. In it, they draw attention to the influence of the media on attitudes towards femicide and domestic violence. The media plays a “pivotal role” in constructing and maintaining stereotypes around violence against women, and conversely, the power they hold in challenging those stereotypes and creating a more accurate narrative of femicide and violence against women and girls. This includes not engaging in victim-blaming or normalizing domestic violence, and treating domestic violence as an isolated instance or as a private, individual problem. Femicide and violence against women and girls is a major public health issue.

What happened to Elana Fric was not a crime of passion, it was a violent and vicious murder. It was the culmination of a relationship predicated on violence and control hidden behind the façade of a happy family. Only a few people knew the extent of the violence and although previously charged with assault and uttering threats of bodily harm, the charges against him where withdrawn so as not to derail his promising career. It is time to stop privileging the future opportunities for men over the present reality of women.

This is a sad story of ongoing violence and a cycle of abuse that affects many women, men and children. It transcends all social and economic groups. The fact that they are both physicians should not make a difference. Unfortunately it did. Would Elana Fric have found it easier to ask for help if she had not been a physician? Would society have been less shocked by her accusations of violence? Would the previous assault charges not have been dropped in favour of his “promising career”? These are questions we may never know the answer to, but we are compelled to ask.

The conversation regarding femicide and violence against women and girls has to change and the media can play a critical role in directing that change. Use The Right Words is a Canadian media resource developed by an impressive cast of advisors and collaborators designed to change how the media reports on sexual violence. In Australia, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the not-for-profit Our Watch have teamed up on guidelines for reporting violence against women and girls. They include: provide context with statistics, call it what it is, humanize the victim, include the perpetrator’s history of violence if possible, and include domestic violence helpline information.

In the aftermath of his guilty plea, Twitter erupted with fury at the media reporting of the “prominent Toronto neurosurgeon and professor”, with many of Dr. Fric’s colleagues protesting the continued sensationalization and bias in reporting that serves to privilege his profession and status over the heinous crimes he committed. We are grateful and proud for the voices of the many Canadian physicians who spoke out against media reporting and who responded with personal stories of Dr. Elana Fric. We are grateful, as well, for the media outlets who have listened to the outcry and who have changed their reporting. We can all do better.

Dr. Kathee Andrews, MD, MCFP, NCMP
National President
Federation of Medical Women of Canada




If you are in a violent situation and you need help, there are crisis hotlines across the country. Dawn Canada provides an updated list at:


Annie Blachford, “How Australian Media are changing the way they report violence against women”, The Conversation July 24, 2018

Michael Lista, “Mohammed Shamji and Elana Fric Shamji: the inside story of a marriage gone horribly wrong”, Toronto Life, May 17, 2017

Anne Kingston, “The biggest lessons from Dr. Elana Fric’s life and tragic murder” Maclean’s, April 15, 2019

Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, #CallItFemicide 2018,