As an example of how brutal domestic violence can be, in February 2020, a Brisbane, Australia, woman named Hannah Clarke became a household name when her ex-husband violated a protective order and killed her and her three children by dousing them with gasoline and lighting them on fire in the family car. Although badly burned himself, the man then exited the vehicle with a knife and tried to prevent paramedics and bystanders from putting out the fire before killing himself with the knife in his hand. The high-profile incident received graphic coverage from the media in Queensland and beyond.
A year and a half later, a study out of the University of Queensland discovered a direct link between the media coverage of Hannah Clarke and a string of copycat acts of domestic violence occurring in the following months across Queensland, with perpetrators burning or attempting to burn their partners or ex-partners. This phenomenon raises an important question: When high-profile domestic violence cases make headlines, can it lead to copycat situations? What causes the so-called “copycat effect” in these situations, and more importantly, what, if anything, can be done to mitigate this effect?
The Copycat Phenomenon and the Media’s Role