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Domestic Abuse: How Should It Be Reported on Patch?

We've reported a fair number of cases on Patch in the past few months. What's the best way to bring it to light?

You don't have to spend much time around the courthouse in St. Louis or St. Charles counties before you realize this: Domestic abuse is epidemic in the community.

Our associate local editor Joe Scott saw that pretty quickly as he started aggressively covering the courthouse for his fellow Patch editors in April. He's written nearly 600 stories about crime in the community since April; about 80 of them have been about some form of domestic abuse.

He's written about cases of boyfriends or husbands bashing women's faces, dragging them by their hair and punching them—in all cases, incidents that resulted in charges being filed against the assailants.

And you read those stories. A lot.

The average readership of those stories is fully 66 percent higher than the average story Joe writes. We write these stories because part of our mission is providing community news. People wonder what the police were doing in their neighborhood, on their block, in their apartment complex. We try to shed light on that when we can.

They want to know about the quality of life in their community, the kinds of people who live nearby and where the needs of their neighbors are. Reporting on crime is a means to that end, and frankly, as I said, you read it.

But it got us wondering: Are we doing more harm than good by reporting these cases of domestic violence in the community? Are we endangering victims of this crime by reporting on it, or discouraging victims from speaking out?

Or are we emboldening victims? If one victim is strong enough to speak out to authorities, perhaps that gives moral support to the next one?

It's a good time to be asking these questions. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. We think Patch can be a constructive participant in the dialogue during October and beyond. And the statistics are pretty amazing.

According to a census done on one day in 2011, Sept. 15, by the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence:

  • 2,012 victims of domestic violence received services
  • 537 hotline calls were answered
  • 378 requests for services were unmet due to lack of staff and/or financial resources.
  • 75 percent of unmet requests were for housing. Emergency shelter and transitional housing continued to be the most urgent unmet needs.
  • Other frequently requested unmet needs included legal representation, counseling, and legal advocacy.

"No, reporting a story doesn’t discourage a woman from coming forward," said Melissa Antney, a development specialist with Lydia’s House, a domestic violence shelter.

She encouraged us to continue covering cases of domestic abuse. So did Rachna Goel, with the Jane Doe Advocacy Center in Maplewood. Both said reporting on these crimes will lead to diminishing the stigma that is associated with it.

Goel advocates reporting all of it, from the serious to the relatively minor incidents, because it may help someone in the early stages of an abusive relationship realize what is happening.

Goel and Antney differ a bit on the approach they'd take in terms of naming defandants and the best ways to avoid further victimizing victims. We have more people to talk to; we're still fact-finding.

That's part of why we're opening this conversation to you. I hope you'll give us your points of view on this crime and how we at Patch ought to approach reporting on this issue. We're weighing all this input as we develop our guidelines.

Why do you suppose readers read about this? What information is necessary in reporting these crimes? What are the reasons to report on it? Are there good reasons not to?

Jon September 23, 2012 at 01:19 PM
This is an important topic. I think you're right to encourage reader discussion about the nature and quality of news coverage about domestic abuse, and I also feel it would be helpful to look at how other community news sources have handled it and what effect this has had on their communities. From what I've read about domestic abuse, it's virtually never a problem that cures itself. Abusers do what they do because they they can, and most importantly because they get away with it. Thus any form of turning a blind eye to it is enabling and perpetuates abuse. Media coverage thus could be a helpful factor in drawing attention to both the problem in general and specific incidents. But what's really needed is a true community-wide commitment to recognize and confront the problem, and insist that police, the courts and associated institutions adopt a zero tolerance policy towards it. If the community cares, media coverage will be helpful. If the community chooses to be in denial or treat articles as entertainment or fuel for gossip, it won't. That's why this discussion is vital.
Dana September 23, 2012 at 03:20 PM
This topic does need more attention. It is something someone who doesn't experience it, doesn't think about. Therefore, spreading information regarding domestic abuse can get awareness out there. What if a post or comment is the one piece of information that a domestic abuse victim reads, and that is what helps her take her step forward to ending the abuse? I don't think putting awareness out there is going to make matters worse for anyone! Good for you guys for bringing up the topic!
Carmen Sida September 23, 2012 at 03:51 PM
I firmly believe it should be in the news, with names addresses and pictures. Domestic violence is one of those tabu subjects that people would prefer to ignore but the abusers need to have their moment of ignorance in the spot light. People need to realize thou that domestic abuse is not limited to intimate relationships. Parents vs children, sibling vs sibling are also forms of domestic abuse. The subject of abuse needs to be brought out of the closet and talked about where it can still do some good. I personally think the mid to later years of grade school would be a good time to address the subject with children. If you are shocked by the numbers being reported I am sure you would even believe how much it really happens. I feel sorry for the police in so many of these cases because they show up and attempt to do their job but the victim usually will either not press charges or does at the time them recants later. The flip side to that is the law is also to lenient on domestic assault cases. The first offense is usually a fine, the second probation with maybe some anger management classes, the third MIGHT get some time. Sadly enough some employers are stricter on abusers than the courts, but that too makes people hesitant to report abuse. All of this said I think the best way to impact domestic abuse is education at a young age.
Deborah Smith Yochim September 23, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Emotional Abuse is just as bad as Domestic Violence. It can emotionally destroy a persons whole self worth. Constant battering can eventually end up in the battered persons suicide. This needs to be addressed as well.
Mike Budd September 23, 2012 at 06:07 PM
Yes, to my point of view, domestic abuse should be reported on Patch. I am convinced that information is key and journalists are important social actors when they let us know how our society is developing and when they give us to think about ourselves. Thus hiding social issues such as domestic violence doesn't help. I would even say that nothing should be kept under silence, except for deontological ethics. The problem is then is convince readers who might not be prepared to the "awful truth". Cheers, Mike
Gina Veesaert September 23, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Agreed, Deborah. I've heard so many people say all kinds of things that basically mean "if you don't get hit, it's not abuse." Make no mistake - verbal and emotional abuse are just as scarring, sometimes more so, than physical abuse.
Gina Veesaert September 23, 2012 at 08:57 PM
On the subject of reporting domestic abuse, I'll bet you'll be hard-pressed to find victims who would want their personal story out there. Most of the abused are shamed and embarrassed that they've allowed themselves to get into the position in the first place.
Mr. Completely September 23, 2012 at 09:09 PM
Please Deborah, explain what emotional abuse is.
Deborah Smith Yochim September 23, 2012 at 09:32 PM
Emotional abuse is when a mate constantly batters you. They call u names, say you are no good. When you are crying they laugh. They try to trap you into thinking you have no escape. They make you feel like you are nothing. It is constant badgering someones mind into thinking they don't even deserve to live. Physical abuse is not as often. Wounds and bruises heal. Emotional abuse lasts forever in your mind until you get help and get out of the situation.
Carmen Sida September 23, 2012 at 11:19 PM
I tend to disagree with the statement that victims don't want their story told. For one reason if they have pressed charges they have had enough and they are DONE! Two if it has not been an ongoing issue it is probably a fairly strong person that got involved with a deceptive abuser and they want that person exposed for what they are. Either way that is just my opinion. Also the only person on public record is the abuser so a victim would have to be seen at the court house or come forward willingly.
JoanLauterbach September 24, 2012 at 02:14 AM
Mr. Completely,,,Emotional abuse is any type of behavior that is used to control a victim. It can include but is not limited to the use of threats, manipulation that comes in many forms, or persistent berating. Often times if an abuser is able to control his victim through these means then the physical violence is often rare but can be present if the victim refuses to conform. Emotional abuse can also be present when there is regular physical abuse. It can take the form of economic abuse such as not allowing the victim to have control over money or not allowing the victim to work. It can also include sexual manipulation or abuse. Many times the abuser makes threats either directed towards the victim in regards to physical safety, threats to take children away if they are involved or even threats of suicide. The abuser will make the victim feel as worthless as they can, then turn right around and say they love them. It can lead to severe depression, cognitive dissonance and even PTSD like symptoms. It leaves psychological scars that are very difficult to heal.
JoanLauterbach September 24, 2012 at 02:18 AM
POWER and CONTROL WHEEL~helpful tool in understanding the overall pattern of abusive and violent behaviors... http://www.ncdsv.org/images/powercontrolwheelnoshading.pdf
Deborah Smith Yochim September 24, 2012 at 06:47 AM
Thank you Joan. You explained it much better than I could. I am a victim of it and I explained it the best way I could. I like your explantion much better. Thanks again
JoanLauterbach September 24, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Deborah, I thought by what you said that you were indeed a victim because of your knowledge(you explained it well),,,we have a daughter who is getting out of this kind of evil relationships after many years and five children later,,,now he is continuing to put her down to her children and succeeding to an extent to see it his way,,,,,,,,,, I know the toll that it has takes on a person mentally physically and emotionally,,,My prayers will be with you, I
JoanLauterbach September 24, 2012 at 02:48 PM
Deborah, By the way, I asked my daughter for the comment that I made(she described it) Ironic as it may be she is now in her Junior year of College majoring in Psychology(needs to take care of the children ~a good job),,,of course, he tells her that it is a waste of time and the children tell her that also,,,it is a round and round thing,,,I pity the next poor victim of his manipulation, believe me there will be another, he is already working on it,,,my daughter was #2,,,it is the children that I am concerned for and what it has and is doing to them...

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