It was the most ambitious project ever undertaken by the editorial staff at the Daily Journal. For five days, from Jan. 13-17, the newspaper devoted a number of its pages to the devastating impact of child sexual abuse. Additional stories, not included in the published series, also ran on the Internet.
Throughout the week, readers gave their reaction.
“Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention.”
“I had no idea how extensive this problem is.”
“I really liked all the tips on what to do or how to prevent this from happening to our kids.”
To read the series at www.dailyjournalonline.com, click on “Shattering the Silence.” So far, there have been more than 11,000 hits on the various elements of the series since it began. A slide show will be added later.
Paula Barr, who was the lead reporter on the series, said two phone calls she received affected her the most.
“On Wednesday morning, I received a call from a 60-year-old reader who was so moved by the series, she decided she needed to open up about the sex abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of her brothers and cousin,” said Barr. “The woman said she hoped that by sharing her story, she could help others as well.”
Her story was included in the seriesl. Another call came from a victim we identified as Allyce Walker, who was sexually assaulted in Iron County when she was 15 years old. She had filed the police report years later and was told a warrant would be issued. It hadn’t been and she had heard nothing on the case for months. After her story ran, she was contacted by prosecutor Scott Killen, who took her deposition.
“A victim called me and thanked us for the articles,” said Barr. “She told me, ‘As much as people would like to believe that it does not happen in this community or in their family, it does. Although it is not a pretty subject, people need to be aware of the damage that it can cause.’”
That’s why Managing Editor Sherry Greminger said the series was planned.
“We knew it would be difficult for some people to read because it would bring to light some realities people may not want to know,” said Greminger. “But, in order to keep children safe in our communities, we wanted to let our readers see the stories of sex abuse affecting people here in our own hometowns.”
The idea for the series was born not long after Michael Devlin was arrested for kidnapping Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby. People who blogged on those stories on the Daily Journal Web site seemed to indicate they thought the danger of sexual abuse was primarily from strangers. But court cases we reported indicated sexual abuse was more likely to happen in cases where children know and trust their abuser. Often that abuse involves family members.
Beginning in February of 2007, Barr and Daily Journal staff members Renee Jean, Teresa Ressel, Chris Cline, Jenn Miller and Donn Adamson explored the issue of child sexual abuse. National and local authorities on the subject were questioned. Victims and abusers were interviewed, along with members of the victims’ families and the abusers’ relatives. The series explored treatment options for victims and offenders, as well as why victims are often hesitant to report what’s happened to them. We looked at how the community responds to the danger by exploring the safeguards in effect in churches and schools.
“One pastor called to tell me because of what he read in our story, he was going to go to his church council and ask about initiating a child safety policy in his congregation,” said Adamson.
A Farmington minister wrote, “I found myself swaying with emotions as I read the balanced reporting on victims and other family members as well as abusers and the legal and treatment professionals. It is tragic of the wide variety of folks who have to deal with the aftermath.”
We looked at the growing dangers of child predators who prowl the Internet in search of victims and post child pornography. We gave tips on how to keep kids safe online.
“We came to realize this is a problem we cannot ignore and we have to do something,” said Barr. “We do it through education and action.”
One reader said the series should be put together in a book form to give to women’s shelters, clinics and social services as a community service.
One staff member said three Girl Scouts who came to his door selling cookies told him they couldn’t accept his invitation to come inside to stay warm while he made his order. They said they had been hearing there are child sex offenders in the area, so they stayed on the porch. Those girls may be less likely to become the victims of a child sex abuse.
On the other hand, there were two subscribers who were appalled by what they read in the first installment of the series and contacted the Daily Journal to cancel their subscriptions.
“We warned our readers that some information might be difficult to read or parents should use discretion if allowing their children to read the online stories,” said Greminger. “We posted that warning online as well. But the overwhelming response we have received has been positive.”
Greminger said she welcomes ideas about other topics of interest the editorial staff might address. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.