Best Practices in Trauma Reporting

Some Dart Award-winners did an excellent job of embedding personal stories within a larger social context. For example, the Houston Chronicle’s “Legacy of Love & Pain” (2003) opens with these startling social statistics: “Every 15 seconds, a woman in America is beaten by her husband or boyfriend. Each year, a million-plus are left black and blue by men who claim to love them. They are the lucky ones. Every day, four of them die. Others live a lifetime with mental and physical scars.” Then the article moves into the personal narrative: “On April 9, 2001, in Houston, a brutal attack forced three generations of women to face their family’s legacy of violence.”

The reporter does an excellent job of weaving social statistics into the personal narrative. In part 6 of the series, the reporter states that a May 2000 report titled “Intimate Partner Violence” from the U.S. Department of Justice “reads like a profile of Hudson’s life.”

The report says:

In this country, you are more likely to suffer intimate partner violence if you are: a woman, black, young, divorced or separated, earning a lower income, living in rental housing and living in an urban area.

In 1998, about 1 million violent crimes were committed against people by their current or former spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends – a slight increase for both men and women from the year before, according to the report. In more than 80 percent of cases, the victims were women.

What this report didn’t mention is the existence of a pattern of abuse in many victims’ families. According to a report by the American Psychological Association’s Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family, a child’s exposure to the father abusing the mother is the strongest risk factor of transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next.

After presenting this information, which provides a social context for the problem of domestic violence, the reporter returns to the personal narrative:

Hudson remembers watching her father shout, scream, punch and hit her mother, while her mother tried to defend herself. It terrified the daughter, but her mother always stayed. It left an impression on her young mind, although she didn’t realize it until she was locked into her own abusive relationship.

The Detroit Free Press did something similar when it quoted gun violence and murder statistics for the city, and then honed in on specific cases, telling the story not of numbers but of human beings.

The Providence Sunday Journal featured a fact box about rape statistics to accompany its article “Rape in a Small Town.” The first bullet-point in the box said, “One in six American women is the victim of rape or attempted rape at some point in her life. (National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, 1998.)”

The Long Beach Press-Telegram provided readers with an enumeration of the real costs of a 9mm bullet, which by itself costs only 22 cents. But when that bullet is used to shoot someone, and the extensive medical and legal costs are taken into consideration, these related costs soar to $1.9 million. Why? The article explains by referring to one particular case covered in the article related to the shooting of a Martine Perry: “Medical treatment: $4,950. Autopsy: $2,804. Crime scene investigation: $13,438. Juvenile hall, jail costs for one year: $85,710. Two-week trial: $61,000. Total local costs: $167,902. State incarceration costs if the four suspects are convicted and serve 20 years: $1,796,625. Total: $1,964,527. (These figures are estimates based on information from various agencies and businesses involved in the aftermath of the September 7 shooting of Martine Perry.)”