“Deadly Affection: A yearlong examination of domestic violence deaths in North Texas”
The Dallas Morning News
August 31, 2014
Before Ray Rice knocked his fiancée to the floor, before Adrian Peterson faced child abuse charges, before the rest of the country began discussing domestic violence like never before, a sense of outrage was building in Dallas.
Several horrific deaths here raised alarm: One woman was gunned down by her estranged husband just hours before police planned to arrest him for assaulting her. Another begged her ex-husband not to kill her as a 911 tape recorded choking, gurgling — and then silence. In 2013, a year when Dallas County led the state in women killed by intimate partners, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings challenged the community to stop the violence. “Real men,” he said, “don’t hit women.”
The Dallas Morning News responded in 2014 with its “Deadly Affection” series explaining why domestic violence happens and how cases are handled in the legal system.
The series had two components: a yearlong tally of every known domestic violence death in a four-county area, updated as each death occurred, and regular enterprise stories that tackled a specific domestic violence issue every few weeks.
Reporters Diane Jennings and Sarah Mervosh maintained a count of lives lost, mapped the deaths by location and documented details, such as the murder method and the average household income in the area of the crime. They also personalized the killings, putting a name and face to each one. Whereas similar homicides were often summed up in three-paragraph briefs in previous years, the series delved deeper to help readers connect with one victim’s career in the Navy, or a 2-year-old girl’s love of animal crackers, for example.
As we logged the uptick in deaths on our website and in print, The News also explored core issues that influence domestic violence cases, such as the evolution of laws through the years, the difficulty in enforcing some statutes and how male victims are treated in the legal system.
Jennings and Mervosh didn’t just want readers to know that at least 39 people died of domestic violence in North Texas last year. They tried to help them understand why that happened and prompt them to think differently about a familiar issue. They didn’t shy away from the uncomfortable, traveling to death row to get a domestic murderer’s perspective, or the unconventional, writing a story on the role of faith and violence.
The community responded by telling us we made a difference:
· Local judges and law enforcement officials scrambled to devise a gun surrender program following publication of the story on the county’s failure to confiscate firearms. The county is set to begin taking guns from abusers in 2015.
· A story on Batterer Intervention and Prevention Programs prompted at least one abuser to seek treatment. When asked who referred him, he said, “The Dallas Morning News.”
· A story on male victims reached a man in Tennessee, who traveled to Dallas and sought refuge at a local shelter after learning it took male victims.
· A story on faith and domestic violence inspired a local pastor to preach about the issue, referring to the series and saying he had been remiss in not discussing it before.
· Human rights lawyers and activists from Afghanistan visited the paper to discuss domestic violence.
· A local hospital asked for dozens of copies to use at an educational seminar.
· And after each story, local advocates noticed a spike in calls for help.
Readers and local leaders say the series changed the conversation about a topic long hidden under the guise of family privacy. In emails, they told us: “Thank you for helping break the silence.” “Thank you for having the courage to write this.” “Thank You, Thank You, Thank You for being the ‘wake up voice’ for our local churches, community leaders, and beyond!”
We’re proud of the changes in the legal system brought generated during the publication of our “Deadly Affection” series and offer it for your consideration. In addition to the link in the field above, please see these links, pertaining to content from the series from August 31through the end of the year.
Submitted by Keith Campbell.