Things the Media and Public Don’t Know about Crime Victims

press-2333329_960_720

In the very beginning when you suddenly become the victim of a violent crime, it is a bit like wearing your shoes on the wrong feet. Nothing fits. It’s foreign and uncomfortable. You don’t know where to turn. You think the police, the detectives, the prosecutor will make your case the highest priority. You are ambivalent about media coverage, for you want everyone to know balanced against your need to maintain privacy. What you don’t know can hurt you. My former blog,  “A New Normal” explains further. 

Although each case is unique in it’s own way, each has commonalities.  There are no “Hints from Heloise” or a 2017 version by Emily Post’s great, great granddaughter “How to Act Around a Crime Victim.” There really should be a guide to be scoffed up by the public with each and every violence act which is becoming part of our new reality- whether crazed and disgruntled or terrorist. We need practical tools!

In the absence of such a guide that fits most criminal acts, some things are obvious, but often blatantly ignored by the media and a public who gleans its information from television.

A short laundry list of do’s and don’ts 

  • Should the media pick up a story on a wire service or social media, due diligence and care should be taken to ensure that law enforcement has made contact with and notified the family prior to releasing information to the public. As we know, particularly with the introduction of social media and our current President’s penchant to Tweet, is it nearly impossible to maintain that “respectable distance, as the lives of a crime victim’s family  are changing forever? I think that effort and respect must be shown, first and foremost!  As a family member who learned of my father’s death via a newspaper article, the horror of learning in this manner was indescribable!   
  • Do not focus your entire story on the violent act and never or barely mention that there are victims, fatalities and those injured.  This is HUGELY IMPORTANT to families who are shocked and offended that their beloved family member gets virtually no coverage whatsoever for the sake of “selling the news.” Although we understand that a victim’s identity cannot be released initially, good journalists do not have to depend upon sensationalism to grab attention;
  • The victim’s frailties, demons, or  mistakes should not define the story and color public perception. Should it be that after a thorough investigation, the victim’s  lifestyle or habits did indeed contribute to the end, so be it. But, it does the surviving family no favors to dwell on that aspect of the person’s life;
  • Do we even need to say, it, Get the facts correct before you publish? Even simple things such as misidentifying a victim by name (as happened with us on local news) can be very disrespectful, If your media  boss is the “get it at any cost,” leave and find another employer with integrity;
  • Don’t spontaneously run up to a distraught victim in a public setting with your phone, microphone or camera and say, “How do you feel? This is a moronic question.  Don’t expect family members to say anything that will adequately convey their feelings. It is intrusive!  Rather, it would be better to quietly seek out an approved family representative who may give an approved statement such that  it does not compromise the investigation.

Family should be counseled to not provide extemporaneous statements to the press just because…

  • Law enforcement attorneys, TV personalities and reporters all engage in this one-No matter where a case is in the span of time, never say that the family is looking for “closure.” Closure implies a finality to homicide. In fact, finality is never truly possible, as lives are irreparably changed and families pass into a different phase of coping.Rather, a more accurate way to describe this process is one of resolution, no matter if the outcome is positive or tragic.
  • Never ask a crime victim, Is it time to move on with your life? Even if a person is stuck in their grief, such a comment implies that their loved one is no longer worthy of public attention!  If family members appear to be passionate in their quest by becoming an advocate for others, recruiting help for their case, doing research on their own, focusing on publicizing the case or holding events to increase awareness, this should not be viewed as “an obsession ” In fact, it can be quite the opposite – Posttraumatic growth (PTG) is positive psychological change experienced as a result of adversity and other challenges in order to rise to a higher level of functioning.
  • If you are a media representative or a concerned family member, do consult with a professional counselor trained in dealing with trauma if you are going to be interacting with victims. In addition, seek out the help of a good support group facilitator for homicide survivors. I highly recommend Connecticut based-Survivors of Homicide.

 

Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before.”

(Mary) Elizabeth Edwards, former attorney, health care advocate, wife of NC Senator John Edwards, who died from breast cancer in December, 2010.

 

Referenceshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posttraumatic_growth

https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/resilience.html

https://donnagore.com/2011/01/01/history-can-only-be-written-by-the-survivors/

https://donnagore.com/2015/03/13/a-new-normal/


DonnaGore-2

To schedule Donna R. Gore for your next conference, seminar or event, please contact ImaginePublicity.Phone: 843-808-0859 or Email: contact@imaginepublicity.com

You can find me here, please follow or friend! Facebook,  Shattered Lives,  Twitter, LinkedIn

 

Advertisements

Juvenile Mass Murder and Victims’ Families: Can There Ever Be a Balance in TV Journalism?  

 

Journalist Maureen Maher recently presented a particular view concerning the family of Nancy Bishop and Richard Langert. Her “Notebook” likens the heinous killing of two adults and a baby to be to her own family tragedy- the loss of her brother-in-law in a car crash, compiled with another sibling killed in a car crash. Tragic, yes, but not a comparable loss.  The family relationships, trying to mend and differing kinds of healing is the commonality here.

Bishop family

(Photo courtesy CBS News)

However, the politics of the matter is that the Supreme Court decision in Illinois potentially offering   violent, plotting juvenile killers a second-chance at re-sentencing drove this show on the back’s of crime victims ‘families. Granted, it is a fascinating case, but, in my view, the killer and the overly forgiving sister is not fodder for entertainment.   To make the murderer and the enthralled forgiving  family member, nearly the entire focus  is not balanced reporting!  Making the case for the danger of juvenile killers was omitted completely.

Maureen’s Notebook Commentary

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/notebook-finding-a-way-to-go-on/;

The 48 Hours : Road to Redemption- 11-28-2015

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/road-to-redemption/

Making a Case for “The Other Side” with Jennifer Bishop Jenkins – JLWOP

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=932F_pbZ-G4

My Immediate Reaction after the 48 Hours Episode was:

THIS IS JUST MY OPINION- After watching the 48 Hours account of the incredible family tragedy suffered by the Bishop family, I know a few things –

  • The pain on their faces said it all;
  • That there is no such thing as a balanced account when it comes to reporting such cases
  • Although I respect the fact that Jeanne has the right to “change her mind,” I think it is a misplaced loyalty that she feels she would not be a “good Christian” without “engaging with the killer.” Very sad…
  • I thought that Jennifer and her mother were tremendously brave and thoughtful in their comments …and very classy!
  • The Supreme Court decision should never have ruled as such. This disturbed man cannot “change his stripes” and has manipulated one smart attorney-Jeanne, who appeared  almost giddy as a school girl describing their communication and her future commitment to him;
  • As a homicide survivor, I stand proudly not “taking sides” but standing beside Jennifer and her mother, for it is the only path to justice;
  • When all is said and done… I admire their continued love for all family members, no matter what their beliefs!

Thank you Jennifer for all that you do! I am so blessed to know you!

Love, Ladyjustice

WHERE’S THE HEART IN JOURNALISM FOR THE PLIGHT OF VICTIMS OF VIOLENT CRIME?

o-PHILIP-RUSSO-facebook

In bygone years, journalists were supposed to stick to the “W’s” – Who, What, Where, When, Why …and How  to present a factual account of a journalistic piece.  However, as a survivor of crime, I now clearly see that reams of paper and ink are devoted to the “who” meaning the perpetrator and the “what” with a more than healthy dose of sensationalism, frequently at the expense of the crime victims. Victims’ families are nearly ignored in this process. The more grisly the better in journalism and viewers flock like a feeding frenzy.  Like it or not, that’s the way it is.

This leaves them as “second class citizens, “out in the cold”, “at the back of the bus” and “a virtual afterthought at best!”  Do journalists really give the public what they want?  Or, is this just rationalization or an excuse for reprehensible behavior in presenting such a skewed image of the people and circumstances involved? I would like to think that the general public, irrespective of their thirst for the immediacy of social media, would “take the high road” if guided.

What is “the high road?” The high road would include: presenting a balanced picture-not to sensationalize; to stick to verified factual information; to not “rush to judgment “ for the sake of beating to the punch  a competing news organization; to humanize the victims above all else, rather than used as a pawn in the ever complex judicial chess game.

The truth is, if journalists did a better job of humanizing the victims, I’m certain there would be positive “spill over effect” to court personnel and the enforcement of crime victims’ constitutional rights!

Enter, Stage Left, my customized victim impact writing service designed for victims “lost in the media swirl” who desperately need a cohesive, objective, experienced voice to convey the heart and soul of their loved one!

A prime example of getting caught in the abyss of the horror of mass homicide without as place to turn is Philip Russo, widower,  former husband of Shelia Russo passionate advocate for the downtrodden, working as the Tribal Administrator on tribal land in Alturas, California (although the mass shooting took place in the tribal office, the building itself does not sit on tribal land). In February, Phil’s entire world “faded to black’.  It all went horribly wrong in an instant!

In order to assist Phil in his quest to the correct the misconceptions of this tragedy, to focus on all victims, including the memory of Shelia, (as opposed to the press the murderer has received,) I submitted selected interview questions to Phil to reflect upon. Readers should keep in mind that his responses reflect a very new and early and very thoughtful perspective

In addition, in more than 30 years of working with crime victims, I have NEVER heard of a more egregious failure of “the system,” a more convoluted, complex, bureaucratic wasteland forced upon this man; lacking in sufficient resources for a crime victim in my life, all due to many circumstances beyond Phil’s control.        It is the proverbial “black hole “you would not wish upon your worst enemy.

This is the very circumstance, which calls for others to step up and step in, including assistance with victim impact, where applicable!

However, on the positive side, I must say at the outset, with people connections, resources and some support, Phil is just beginning to “see the light of day” ever so slowly, with his overwhelming sense of grief the most difficult part of his battle.

I am honored that he chose to participate and offer his voice for the benefit of others.

Questions and Responses for Phil Russo

Thus far, what is the one most difficult lesson you have learned about being a victim of violent crime?    

Personally speaking, it was the realization that all of the programs and people everyone thinks are out there to aid someone in my situation are either nonexistent or were or little to no help to me. I went through all of the traditional sources for victim’s assistance, not one was able to connect me with the help I was seeking.  I was thrown into a quicksand of red tape. Having to jump through hoops to complete paperwork and make phone calls. Dealing with bureaucracy is the last thing you want deal with when you’re experiencing debilitating grief. For me, the ability to speak with people who had experienced losing someone to gun violence, just as I had, was crucial. I’ve had the good fortune to speak with many other survivors, who tell me they all had the same experience. It was only through reaching out on my own that I was able to find people like you, who were able to put me on the right path.    I feel grateful for having come across the people I’ve met through social media. If it weren’t for all friends that I’ve made by striking out on my own for help, I don’t know where I’d be today.  I’m lucky in that whatever it was that possessed me to use social media to reach out has led to meeting so many caring people.  I hate to think about all the other victims who aren’t as lucky as I am in that regard.  On the positive side, one of the enlightening things that I’ve learned is that in times of tragedy, you need to surround yourself with caring supportive people. When Shelia was first killed, I was determined to make it through this on my own.  I realized though, that I was never going to make it alone. I needed help. So I opened my heart and reached out to others and it has made all the difference.

What is the biggest misconception that the media has concerning this horrible crime?  

article-2565664-1BB8DBDF00000578-661_634x826There are a few things. First, regarding Shelia’s role in all of this, Shelia’s job as Tribal Administrator was to implement the decisions made by the tribe.   Shelia had no role in the decision making process for the recall elections or the evictions.  Her job was to merely oversee the proceedings to make sure they were carried out per the tribe’s by laws.

Then, there are some who are of the opinion that this is just a common occurrence with Native American’s on reservations. I believe this is a misconception fueled by prejudice.

Regarding the matter of the embezzlement, it’s hard for me to believe that Cherie Rhoades would kill 4 people and try to wipe out the entire tribe merely over her eviction. There were 19 people in the building that day, and according to testimony by law enforcement, Rhoades made statements that she intended to kill everyone.  Remember, this is woman who was receiving $80,000 a year and living in her house for free, simply for being a tribal member.  She could have simply packed up and moved elsewhere very easily.  Sources put the dollar amount of the embezzlement at $50,000, but that was just according to the 2012 financial audit. The accounting records for the previous years were so poorly kept, that they were going to have to recreate them forensically.  Cherie Rhoades was the chairwoman for 10 years.   I believe that if they dig deeper that they would find a lot more.

Hypothetically speaking, do you feel that if but for multiple victims, victims within the same family and culture as the perpetrator, your wife’s murder would not have “gotten lost”? Why/Why not?

That’s a difficult question to answer.  I don’t know why this story, as a whole, has gotten very little attention. Even some of the activist groups that I’ve become a member of didn’t even know this shooting occurred.  I’m not sure if it’s because of all the reasons you’ve listed or our extremely remote location. Those all very well could be the reasons. Then again, maybe not. I’m not sure why.  I’m still trying to figure this out.

In your opinion, what can realistically be done to incentivize journalists to begin focusing on crime victims versus the perpetrators?

I’m not sure if it’s a matter of trying to incentivize or the need to humanize them…  People have commented to me that the media is just giving the public what it wants I think that’s a cop out. People are still going to read the stories to learn the facts. I believe that media can still report the news without glorifying the perpetrators and all of the sensationalism.  I can understand why some people are apprehensive about talking to the media. They’re afraid of being taken out of context and exploited and rightly so.  It certainly does go on, but I think that we as victims need to speak out more.  We need to talk about our loved ones.  We need to tell the stories of their lives and all the good things they did so that they are remembered for WHO they were and not by how they were killed.  Remember, for every positive story that we DON’T tell, the media will only publish the negative. I want people to see real cost of this violence, the human factor. I think that honoring the victims is something that everyone can relate to and hopefully, in some way, it may help to bring an end to this violence.  I think that we also need to hold the media accountable for what they publish.  If you see an exploitive news story, call the news director or station manager where the story appears and let them know that it’s insensitive to the victims. It’s just something that needs to be taken on one battle at time. That’s activism 101.

One of the ironies of this case is that your wife’s background was rich in accomplishments with much to be written about as a feature story. What would your feature story include about Shelia? 

The wonderful thing about Sheila is that for all of her accomplishments, she always remained just a humble country girl from Bakersfield. Shelia was one of the most caring, loving, non judgmental and down to earth people that you’d ever meet. She was driven by an innate passion to help others and it was her compassion that was really the key to her success.  Major accomplishments aside, it was all the little things she did in between that made Shelia who she was.  After her death, people that had known Sheila in the past came out in droves to contact me. People I never knew or heard of before.  They shared wonderful stories with me about Shelia had impacted their lives. They told me Shelia was a mentor to them, how Shelia gave them jobs when other people gave up on them. One woman told me how Shelia was able to “work her magic” and save her grandmother’s house from being taken away by the Bureau of Land Management. People were so compelled to reach out to tell me, they sent their cards and letters in care of the Modoc County Sheriff’s Office because they had no other way to reach me.  Even in her free time Shelia took every opportunity to write in public forums about issues that were important to her.  She was very well educated on the issues of the day and not afraid to debate on healthcare and immigration reform, environmental and climate issues, and marriage equality. In true Shelia fashion, always fighting for the underdog.  Not more than a week before she was killed, I asked Shelia the question if what she did for work seemed like a job to her, or if she loved it so much that it didn’t seem like work. She thought for a second and then answered me. She said that she loved what she did so much, that to her, it wasn’t work at all. In fact, she would do it even if she was never paid for it. It was just a way of life for Shelia.  That’s the kind of person Shelia was.Unknown
People have asked me if this tragedy has hardened my heart. The answer is no, and quite frankly just the opposite is true. It’s really caused my heart to open more. I hate to sound cliché, but it does make you realize what is truly important in life and how trivial most the things that conflict us really are.   Sheila already firmly grasped this “big picture” of life, even without suffering the tragedy. The things that meant the most in life to Shelia were her children, her family, friends, her love for nature and animals, and her desire to do good things in her lifetime.  A few years ago, Shelia posted on Facebook “What makes life worth living is working to create the mark that you leave on this world”. The people who have recently come to know Shelia through me all tell me how inspirational her story is. This is the reason why I try so hard to tell her story.  I know that Shelia will continue to inspire and open hearts.  This is the gift that Shelia has given to me.  This is the mark that Shelia has left on this world. This is the Shelia that I want people to know.

Comments and Conclusions:

I am truly touched at the thoughtful, sensitive nature of Phil’s reflections, revelations and truths regarding the circumstances and the character of his wife – even at this early stage in his journey.  There truly is no “right or wrong responses” when we try to access one’s intellect combined with places in the heart… It is only through the process of reaching out to others in times of need that we really begin to understand the richness of life itself. Sheila would have wanted it that way. I feel it! We will attempt to keep you updated on this story. To contact Phil Russo: philip_russo@yahoo.com;

Contact me for information about Victim Impact Statement Services available if you have the need:  Email ladyjusticedonna@gmail.com