As journalists, we get criticized for pointing out what’s wrong without offering solutions.
In our role as the proverbial messengers, we are shot at often for delivering bad news.
But there are times when we, in reporting on a well-established problem or issue, asks ourselves why we aren’t digging deeper into a problem that we’re constantly reporting on.
That was the case nine months ago, when after a series of brutal murders involving domestic violence, we gathered a group of Press journalists and urged them to look deeper at partner violence.
The reporters — Madison Russ, Claire Lowe, Erin Serpico and Nicole Leonard — were instructed: Start talking to abusers and the abused. Go back to old cases. Find experts. Dig into reports. Stay with the story and develop an understanding of what’s being done, what’s working, and what has to happen next. Make connections, ask questions. Write stories.
Look for answers.
A year later, we’re still looking and still reporting. But we have learned many things, some discouraging, and others that give us hope.
— We’ve learned that while the rate of prosecution of domestic violence cases in municipal court is just 20 percent (problem), there are counties such as Ocean County that have more than doubled that rate to 52 percent through a specialized unit that starts at the prosecutor’s office and connects down to every municipal police department in the county (solution?).
— We’ve also learned that the stigma of domestic abuse often shames victims into silence long after the crime. That’s a problem we encountered early on as we sought people willing to talk. Many potential sources were reluctant to talk or to be named in articles. As frustrating as that sometimes was, we kept asking at the end of each story if others wanted to share.
— By December, the leads on positive forces in the fight on domestic violence were growing. Susan Scrupski, a former New Jersey journalist and domestic abuse survivor, uses technology that identifies dangerous escalations of behavior by domestic violence suspects. We also learned of a growing network of domestic violence experts sharing successes. The group met at Monmouth University in the fall to discuss solutions-based approaches to partner violence.
Also encouraging was our audience’s growing willingness to talk about the issue. In November, our team — joined now by Press photojournalist Erin Grugan — produced a video in which domestic violence survivors share stories of their journey through brutal beatings, fear and loss. Despite the subject, their stories also brim with hope as they lend their collective voice to help others escape the cycle of violence.
As December runs out of days, it’s only natural that we take stock. We’d like to be further along in the process and to have found more answers. But we understand the complexity and challenges of the problem. The only reason to be discouraged would be if we were giving up.
We’re not. Next week it will be a new year. We have more leads, more stories and more questions to ask. And hopefully more solutions to share.
To read The Press of Atlantic City’s “Breaking the Cycle” series, go to www.pressofac.com/breaking-the-cycle.
W.F. “Buzz” Keough is managing editor of The Press of Atlantic City.