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?