No newspapers = lazy cops + inequality for female victims

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One of the most serious problems facing the world is the ongoing demise of journalism.
As one newspaper after another makes its final print run, and reporters walk away wondering what to do next, a sad fact escapes the masses: If investigative journalism, that traditional method of gathering hard news, weighing what’s real with what isn’t and then turning what’s left into a story that readers can actually understand, goes the way of the dinosaur, we will take a giant step backward.
Especially is this true when it comes to crimes against women. Instead of it being a sometimes thing, victims of rape and domestic violence will then regularly get the cold shoulder when it comes to the time law enforcement will invest to
investigate these crimes, and the energy prosecutors will use to take such cases to trial.
In 1998 I wrote a two-part series for The Dominion Post about news tools available to police officers, including $2,000 camcorders they carry around with them to make their jobs easier—and make prosecution of such crimes more successful. (That article is no longer available online, but a similar one written at the same time, can be read here.)
Eleven years later, I have learned that these expensive tools aren’t, in many cases, even being used. A recent case I know about shows the damage that comes from what can only amount to laziness: a woman was assaulted to the point of needing surgery, she called 911, the police showed up—but the officer didn’t investigate.
Didn’t use his camera. Didn’t take notes. Didn’t ask if she was injured or arrest her batterer.
Maybe that’s because, as a recent West Virginia prosecutor told me, police officers’ attitudes basically haven’t changed. While acknowledging that most cops do a good job, he said they still don’t like investigating domestic violence cases. In fact, he added, if not for the law requiring them to do so, they would do what they used to, before such laws were enacted—many officers would just ignore them completely.
I’m not sure what happens when it’s a matter of rape, since that’s a crime that can be even trickier. But I do know this: some prosecutors won’t even take a rape case if the woman has been drinking. Here at West Virginia University, where more than 700 campus rapes occur a year, if any of those cases involve a female student who imbibed alcohol, she may as well not even report the rape.
Knowing how hard it is for a woman to report rape and domestic violence, I can’t help but wonder where we will be, down the road, when newspapers are gone and no one’s left to dig around to find stories like these.
Sadly, there are already too many of them, even with real journalists still at the helm of many daily newspapers. But that’s changing. What then?
When investigative reporters clean out their desks and don’t receive a paycheck for digging up the dirt on police and prosecutors, it’s a safe assumption that these crimes against women will be assigned even less importance than they are now.
And today, in 2009, that’s far too little, as it is.


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