A MESSAGE TO OUR READERS

Because you need to know

Posted

As most of you know, we had a graphic story in last week’s newspapers. A lot of people are asking, “Why would you print such a horrendous story?”
The reason is very simple — because you need to know.
The world of today is very graphic and a lot of people don’t care. This week, you can scroll through Facebook and find 10 or more videos of people getting shot, children are watching “R” and “MA” rated movies, and playing video games where they kill and steal. Most of us ignore these facts until something bad happens to us — or someone we know.
Unfortunately, sexual predators live among us and many people don’t realize it. We all need to do what we can to fight against these sick people — which is why you will see stories like this printed in such detail.
This story is very important for many reasons. A small, short story without details would have said “A subject has been charged with X, Y and Z, and a court date is pending.”
Should we have just hid the allegations from the public?
First, and I know it is hard to look at it this way, but this very well may be a success story of someone getting caught — a detail which is yet to be determined by a judge and jury. Many perpetrators of similar crimes get away with them for years or a lifetime.
This incident reportedly happened in the middle of May and the investigation began in August. An investigation which couldn’t have happened without a mother questioning her son and people reaching out to the boy’s family after claiming to hear the accused bragging about what he did.
Second, this story shows that sexual abuse has many different faces and not all abuses involve an older man and a young girl. This should highlight to everyone the importance of watching the behavior of their children and of all those around them.
Third, this also goes to show the hard work that the police and investigators go through to bring predators to justice. Unfortunately, police officers work with both bad people and good people. How many similar cases have the police worked on, unable to obtain details, so no charges were filed? How many sex offenders are never charged due to a lack of evidence — or people willing to talk? How many victims never have a voice or closure because of an absence of an investigation?
Fourth, with actions like this now being reported at the national level, it is important that “we the people” fight against crimes that involve sexual abuse.
As a local news source, we feel like the best way to fight this is to draw as much attention to these acts as possible.
If we had written the story as “X” has been charged with “Y,” it would be the same level of coverage as someone charged with drug possession or any other minor charge. Do you think predatory actions are not worse than a drug charge?
Should we relegate this to a small “nothing” story?
Or, should we just completely ignore heinous stories based on the fact that people don’t want to hear the cold, hard truth?
Fifth, we do not hide from graphic coverage in any situation. Our reporting policy is the same for car accidents and graphic photographs. Including accident photos stresses the dangers of driving distracted. When I was in school, administrators showed a very graphic video about what can happen in a drunk driving situation to encourage students not to drive drunk.
This story is precautionary, so you as a parent or grandparent can learn from, watch for and teach your kids to stand up and get away if events like this start to unfold. Unfortunately, in the world we live in this is a subject we now have to talk with our kids about. Use terrible situations as a way to open a dialogue with your children and grandchildren.
Situations like this are rarely a one-time thing and usually when predators involved in actions like this are caught, it is later determined there are multiple other victims. Only time will tell if that is the case in this instance.
As for the way we reported this story, we used the initials from the Maries County Sheriff’s Department’s probable cause statement. Using initials of a minor is recommended by the court system, the Missouri Press Association and the Associated Press. The probable cause statement is a public record for anyone to request.
It should also be noted that the probable cause statement from the sheriff’s office specifically named all parties involved in this case. This newspaper chose to self-censor information for the story and to not run the probable cause statement as presented, in order to further protect the child. The article that ran in three newspapers left out details we felt would further harm the victim and were not necessary to explain the charges.
What was printed included far less graphic descriptions of the events that were reported to have taken place that night. The full descriptions without our censorship are fully available to the public at any time and will be presented during open court.
I personally believe that, in a sense, had we removed additional content from this article, we would have been protecting the alleged predator by not including the details of the evil he reportedly committed. I feel the local newspaper should never conceal the details — especially when the allegations concern violating a child and their trust.
You can agree or disagree with our reasoning behind printing these details.
However, I hope you respect them.
This has not been the first time details like this have been printed nor will they be the last time. Stories like this are the hardest and most painful to cover and write.
I hope and pray for the day when there are no more reports of events like this.

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