Cohen & Reporting on Domestic Violence

In thinking about the Cohen story, I am wondering who prompted the media to write about it the day after the elections.  This seems to be the work of the Republican Party in Illinois, and to tell you the truth I do not blame them.  I am sure that the Republicans are very happy that this guy won the Democratic primary.  I am writing about this topic now because with all the coverage swirling around this topic I am wondering if this example actually symbolizes a larger systemic societal disregard for this type of violence

The situation with Cohen certainly demonstrates a moral void in what topics the media chooses to report on.  The fact that Cohen’s seemingly pattern of domestic related violence played no role in impacting his ability to pursue and achieve financial success, and now some degree of political success, is a telling fact.  Violence against women is not taken seriously in our communities, by our media, by policy makers for the most part, or by our criminal justice system.  You can look back at the Anthony Abbate & Derrick King cases for further evidence.  In thinking about all of these cases I thought I would shed some light on this issue with some data from our criminal justice system in Chicago and Cook County.

Question:  What number does the Chicago media report most often regarding crime in Chicago?

Answer:  Homicides

Question:  How many calls for service to OEMC/911 were reported in 2008?

Answer:  4,704,590

Question:  How many of the 4,704,590 calls for service in 2008 were for domestic related calls?

Answer:  204,054

Question:  What types of violence are most often witnessed & experienced by children in our society?

Answer:  Any researcher would tell you that domestic violence is far and away the form of violence most often experienced by the youth in our society.

Question:  Why does the media so often ignore domestic violence unless it results in a horrific murder or beating that the police put to their attention?

Answer: I am not really sure but the answer is vital if we are going to get to the bottom of why communities disregard this violence so often.  Whether we like it or not the media plays a significant role in setting the agenda for discourse in our communities and public policy.

The Top Ten Crimes by Arrests for the Chicago Police Department, 2008.*

  • Warrant (20,334)
  • Possession Cannabis <2.5g (10,341)
  • Drinking in the Public Way (9,851)
  • Possession of a Controlled Substance <15g Cocaine (9,408)
  • Possession of Cannabis 2.5-10g (9,334)
  • Criminal Trespass to Land (7,596)
  • Battery – Bodily Harm (6,554)
  • Shoplifting < $300 (6,606)
  • Possession of a Controlled Substance <15g Heroin (6,540)
  • Domestic Battery – Bodily Harm (6,268)

* Source:  Chicago Police Department Domestic Violence Quarterly Statistical Report – Year to Date December 2008.

Why is it that the media is fixated with homicides and not reporting on one of, if not the most common form of violence in our communities?  Homicides happen so infrequently as to be dwarfed by the calls for service for domestic disturbances on a daily basis.  Is it because they are so final and result in a death?  Is that the excuse used to explain the fixation the media has with homicide rates?  The media cannot help themselves but to report the sometimes monthly homicide rates and as such they are implying this is the only way to measure how the Chicago Police Department is doing their job.  Seems logical but in the end it only demonstrates the ignorance of the media and their lack of understanding of the role of the Chicago Police Department, read more:  here, here, and here.Maybe the Chicago media should start doing their penance by deciding to cover how the crime of domestic violence permeates all levels of our society.  The media could then assign at least one reporter each to the topic for a year and start to gain a minimal understanding about how violence in the home is one of the prime ingredients in the manifestation of violence in our streets.  Their needs to be an understanding from our media and our citizens about how domestic violence is a building block to many problems that persist in our community.

Through my academic studies I have had the ability to interact with researchers conducting research on a variety of topics.  One researcher once told me about the following exchange between a member of the Chicago Police Department and a young girl in a community of color.

(This is from my memory and not meant to be exact wording)

Officer:  Why do you kids insist on hanging out on the corner even though it is not safe?

Girl:  Because it is safer than being in my house?

Officer:  Wow

Until the media can clearly communicate this reality to the citizens of Chicago and policy makers our society will never deal with this problem effectively.  If we are counting on kids to communicate to adults how unsafe their homes are because of the violence perpetrated at the hands of adults in the homes then all is lost.  The media clearly demonstrated that they decided to leave it to the kids because it is too complicated an issue for them to get their head around.  Cohen’s candidacy should have been a teaching moment, not a symbol of ignorance and incompetence by our media.

Additional Links to Interesting Takes on Situation:

  • Beachwood Reporter – Lite Gov Lunacy
  • Progress Illinois on Press Conference held by Coalition of Woman’s Organizations (video available)

For Additional Information:


* Picture from Press Conference held at the offices of the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network on the subject of domestic violence and the commitment by state and local officials to address this vital issue.

Tracy has nearly two decades of experience researching and working within criminal justice systems. When Tracy began pursuing a career dedicate to system reform, he found that no single organization existed to promote evidence-based discussions among law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. Recognizing that citizens in Chicago deserved the right to demand transparency in their criminal justice system, Siska established the Chicago Justice Project. He received his Master of Arts degree in Criminal Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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