VJN News

Negative media coverage traumatic: mother of Ottawa murder victim

VJN News
The mother of a 23-year-old Ottawa woman who was murdered in 2011 has reached out to journalism students to teach them the impact the media has on victims and their families.
Karen Riopelle said her daughter, Jessica, was unfairly portrayed in the media because she worked as a dancer next to the Bank Street hotel where she was killed by Patrick Dunac. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2012. 
“They made everybody think that she was someone deserving of murder,” Riopelle told VJN. “That is detrimental to the lives of the family.”
Riopelle said media coverage of homicide cases is continuous. Repeatedly, Jessica’s name and picture appeared in newspapers and on television. 
Every time there was a development — an arrest, her funeral, new details in the investigation, the court case — Jessica’s brutal death was in the news again. 
“People are not strong enough to endure that hell when the child they love has been brutalized,” Riopelle said. “I can’t put into words the torture that the media put on me.”
Jessica’s job as a dancer was mentioned every single time, likely to sensationalize the story, Riopelle believes. If her daughter worked for the government, media wouldn’t have focused on her occupation, she says.
“There’s a difference between someone’ s job and someone’s life,” Riopelle said.
Riopelle’s tight-knit family and group of friends helped saved her life after her daughter’s death, she said.
Others who aren’t as strong and lack a strong support network might not be able to 
handle negative media coverage, she worries.
“It kills people,” Riopelle said. “Words kill people.”
Riopelle said the media coverage added to the already overwhelming trauma as she grieved her daughter’s death.
Riopelle says that if media want to report negatively on a homicide case, they should focus on the accused instead of the victim. 
The accused in her daughter’s case worked as a handyman and cleaner at the hotel where her daughter was killed. 
During his sentencing hearing, Riopelle read a victim impact statement. She told court that she felt guilty for laughing or feeling any joy and cannot come to terms with the fact that her daughter will never come home. More than five years after the media coverage first began, she still cries everyday.
She cries because the torture Dunac inflicted on her daughter was “so horrific.”
But there is hope.
And surviving family members can make change, which is what Riopelle hopes to have accomplished with her talk at an Ottawa journalism school.
She wants to see reporters move away from placing blame on victims by focusing on the negative.
Last year, Riopelle also started to speak out about violence against women.