Images of the dead – a plea for humanity

Trigger warning: this post contains descriptions of graphic images including death, disfigurement, violence, abuse, and suicide

I don’t need to see a photo of Luke Batty lying battered in the morgue to bear witness to the senseless domestic violence that stole his young life.

I don’t need to see a photo of Jill Meagher dumped in a shallow grave to bear witness to the flawed justice system that placed her in the path of the parolee who raped and murdered her.

And I don’t need to see a photo of Charlotte Dawson, dressed in a favourite green dress hanging above the French windows in her apartment to bear witness to the harm that online abuse can have on the mentally fragile.

I don’t need to see any of these images, or even to imagine them, to be deeply moved by these deaths, appalled by the circumstances that led to them, and know that they have brought unfathomable grief to others.

If you are shocked, offended or deeply troubled by me desecrating the dead by evoking these images then you’ll have glimpsed how I feel when forcibly presented with photos of the dead by people who refuse to mark such images as sensitive material on social media.

In the past couple of weeks, mostly when monitoring Twitter feeds on a large screen in a workplace, I’ve witnessed battered children lying in morgues, the bodies of men and women dumped in shallow graves, and three women who’d been hung in a tree.

I’ve seen an anguished man clutching a child whose skull is half blown away, leaving only a peaceful face backed by a gaping red hole.

I’ve scrolled quickly past these photos, shocked at their graphic nature but mostly not wanting to harm nearby work colleagues.

For while the people who post and retweet such photos hope to draw the world’s attention and opprobrium to the perpetrators of violence, I’m more concerned about the impact these images have on those who’ve unwillingly been recruited through unfiltered social media feeds to bear witness.

There’s a reason why we use trigger warnings such as the one placed at the beginning of this post, just as there are guidelines for the public reporting of suicide.

Society is trying to protect those within it who are susceptible to graphic portrayals of violence.

That includes depressives, like me, who may at one point have considered suicide and who can slip easily back into a dark place when presented with depictions of violence and death. The slide can be even more slippery if those portrayals are unexpected or particularly graphic.

Then there are those, also like me, who’ve either lived close to domestic violence sometime during their lives or experienced it directly. Or those who are working to recover from post traumatic stress disorder brought on from myriad other forms of violence including psychological abuse, rape, battery, and home invasion, just to name a few.

I agree the world should bear witness to the atrocities being inflicted on innocent children, women and men. I acknowledge that graphic images can help jolt the comfortable western world out of its complacency when it comes to such violence.

But in using such images we must as a society be mindful of the real harm that actual depictions of violence and death can also inflict on those of our own communities who are vulnerable and at risk.

By all means draw attention to the inhumanity of war and other violence, but please retain your own humanity by protecting those who would be harmed by its depictions.

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