Columbia, Mo. (Nov. 24, 2003) — A new study by MU journalism and law researchers examined the inconsistencies in the justice system’s response to violence against women. For example, police arrest a man who violates a woman’s civil protective order, but in a separate incident refuse to arrest a man who allegedly rapes a friend’s abused wife.
The study, conducted by Kent Collins, chair of the broadcast news department, and Mary Beck, law professor, discovered some of the causes of the irregularities, including population, geographic size, the number of law enforcement personnel and the number of prosecutors in the county.
“The findings in this study are a very good example of what happens in states across the country,” said Beck. “We want to share our findings with other states because we feel it will be extremely helpful and valuable to policymakers and legislators when they examine their state’s justice system response to domestic violence.”
Beck and Collins compared the number of domestic violence calls to the police, arrests, criminal charges and civil protective order filings in four Missouri counties. They examined the counties’ population, square mileage, and number of law enforcement officers and prosecutors. They found considerable differences in the actions taken by officers and prosecutors among the counties.
For example, one of the counties had a low number of civil protective orders: 1 per 1,515 people compared to 1 per 162 people in another county. One county showed a low number of criminal charges filed: 4 for every 16,670 people compared to 4 for every 1,082 people in another county. When researchers compared two counties located next to each other, one had 50 percent fewer domestic violence police calls and 40 percent fewer arrests per police call than the other county.
Broadcast news students produced three stories for KOMU — not to reveal the horrors of domestic violence but to explain how a system supported by laws was failing to protect victims and prosecute abusers. The KOMU students took the raw research of the Law School students, humanized it with examples and interviews — thus showing academic research in an investigative manner.
In addition to addressing the domestic violence issue, those journalism students and three law school students learned techniques of research and reporting used by each other’s discipline, according to Collins.
“The Law School students learned that television news is happy for examples as long as they are true to the hard data. The Journalism School students learned that lawyers want endless data — that they are never satisfied,” said Collins.
Beck and Collins want to create a database that will include all Missouri counties. They have received provisional approval for a new grant in order to expand the investigation statewide. Their new study also will look at several other factors that may contribute to the justice system’s inconsistencies, including unemployment, education, income, ethnic composition, rural/urban/suburban location and the presence of an aggressive domestic violence response attitude or team.
“We want this to lead to an improved response to violence against women, specifically, police responding to the site of the domestic disturbance, careful collection of evidence, attentive law enforcement record keeping of responses to domestic violence calls, appropriate prosecution of abusers and the use of evidentiary techniques in civil and in criminal domestic violence cases that reflect an understanding of the psychodynamics of domestic violence,” Beck said.