Springfield Daily Citizen reporters Steve Pokin and Jackie Rehwald took a deep dive into domestic abuse in Springfield. Their months long efforts resulted in extensive multi-part series “Living in Fear”.
Few have taken such an in-depth look at domestic violence in Springfield, which is ranked number one in reported domestic violence per 100,000 in the state of Missouri. So, we took the opportunity to ask Steve Pokin and Jackie Rehwald about some of their observations.
Question: What did you find most enlightening through the process of your reporting?
I learned the many reasons why victims find it difficult and dangerous to leave their abuser. Two reasons I had not given much thought to was that the victim still might love the abuser and the fact that they have children together.
I learned that Springfield police diligently try to help victims through referrals to various nonprofit organizations such as the Greene County Family Justice Center, Harmony House, and the Victim Center. Jackie and I saw this first-hand during our ride-alongs with two different police officers.
I personally did not know that choking/strangulation was so often used in domestic assault.
I was surprised to learn how difficult it is to prosecute these types of criminal cases and how often the victim refuses to cooperate with prosecutors. But I also had the opportunity to be at a sentencing hearing in which the prosecutor played videos of “jail visits” between the offender and his victim. I saw how he looked at her and heard the abusive things he said to her to pressure and control her.
Question: Where is the greatest gap in the legal system, nonprofits, and/or community?
I found it enlightening that no one in Missouri appears to have any data that would shed light on whether batterer intervention classes actually work.
One gap, I believe, is that the counselors and therapists who offer the classes have little or no contact with the nonprofits who work with victims, and no contact with prosecutors.
Regarding the legal system, I was surprised to learn that federal prosecutors in Springfield rarely charge abusers with the federal crime of being in possession of a firearm by someone who has previously been convicted of misdemeanor sexual assault.
The federal law was passed in 1996 — called the Lautenberg Amendment — as a specific way to address the problem of domestic violence. This tool is hardly ever used in Southwest Missouri.
Something we heard over and over from survivors was how difficult and retraumatizing it can be for victims trying to navigate the court system. I’d love to see more free legal services made available and for the courts to be more trauma informed.
Question: If you could share one critical bit of information to the public about domestic abuse in SWMO, what would it be?
One of the main reasons victims don’t get help is because they think their situation is unique and the reason for the abuse might be their own fault. Victims might think this because often they have been isolated.
In reality, they are not alone; their situation is not unique; there is help.
In an emergency, call 911.
The Victim Center and Harmony House partner to operate the 24-hour crisis line: 417-864-7233 (SAFE).
The Victim Center is at 815 W. Tampa St., and walk-ins are welcome from 9a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
The Greene County Family Justice Center, 417-874-2600.
The center is a one-stop shop for victims of any kind of abuse. It is at 1418 E. Pythian St., in the former Tefft school building.
Walk-ins are welcome from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Question: In your reporting did you get a better feel for how southwest Missouri compares to other areas or the nation as a whole?
Our reporting showed that statistically — of the 10 most populous cities in Missouri — Springfield is far and away No. 1 in reported incidents of domestic violence, based on population. Several Greene County sources said that although domestic violence, no doubt, is prevalent in this area, the No. 1 ranking might reflect the inroads made by various agencies, including police, in getting victims to report.
Question: What feedback have you received regarding the series?
First, we have received tremendous cooperation from sources who have been willing to discuss the subject with us — from victims, police, advocates, prosecutors and state and federal judges.
The lone exception has been the Department of Corrections and its Division of Probation and Parole, which refused to talk to us. It did not want to discuss batterers intervention programs, which is where convicted abusers are often sent, instead of being sent to jail or prison. The department credentials these programs and sets curriculum guidelines. It declined comment because, in its view, it does not “manage” them.
Second, we have received positive responses from several people in the community.
On the other hand, two sources were unhappy with the Malea Klusmeyer story about how she felt she was not only victimized by her ex-husband, a lawyer, but by prosecutors who — in her view — took away her voice in how her ex-husband would be prosecuted.
Thank you to Steve and Jackie for their extraordinary reporting efforts that undoubtedly helped raise awareness and understanding of domestic violence in Springfield.
The Greene County Family Justice Center is a non-profit collaborative of local agencies offering comprehensive services to survivors of domestic, sexual, and family violence. Our services are trauma-informed, survivor-centered, and we welcome survivors at any point in their process. We partner with local non-profit service providers as well as local law enforcement, the Prosecutor’s office, and Children’s Division to make victim services more accessible and completely voluntary. If you do not want to participate in the criminal justice process, we support you.
Our vision is a future where we all work together to meet the needs of domestic violence and human trafficking survivors through comprehensive and accessible services, education, and perpetrator accountability. Through a coordinated framework and co-located response, we strive to break the vicious generational cycle and community impact of domestic violence and resulting victimizations.
We can help you plan for your safety whether you plan to stay in the relationship, or you are actively trying to escape. All our services are free, confidential and survivor centered. Have questions about what services are available? Visit us at 1418 E. Pythian Street or give us a call at 417-874-2600. We are open 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM, Monday through Friday. For after-hours assistance, call the Harmony House/Victim Center’s 24-hour safe line at 417-864-SAFE (7233). If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.