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Sally Lemaire: Too much information, too little analysis in ‘Resting Places’

Sherry Morton and Cedric Seabrooks in 1992, months before they were murdered in Northampton on Jan. 11, 1993.

COURTESY OF YOKO KATO Sherry Morton and Cedric Seabrooks in 1992, months before they were murdered in Northampton on Jan. 11, 1993. Purchase photo reprints »

I applaud the Gazette’s commitment to support efforts to help end domestic violence and to educate our community about its causes. Simultaneously, I am concerned and critical about coverage provided in the recent “Resting Places series and question its purposes, intent and effects on readers and potential abusers and victims.

My experiences as a former executive director of a women’s shelter and as a friend to a woman murdered 25 years ago inform my reaction to the series.

I do not understand the emotional makeup of perpetrators of violence. I do know, however, that a thread appears over time that enables some women and fewer men to escape the cycle of being a victim of deadly abuse. That thread is a person or a place where trust can be built and confidentiality can be assured.

The locations of most shelters for battered women are not listed, phone use is monitored to prevent residents from calling their abuser, asserting their love and wanting to be forgiven, picked up and taken home. Caller ID leads to deaths. Giving out data from a therapist’s record of the victims or their relatives has led to murder.

It can take 20 years or more to identify, capture, prosecute and move the work into the court systems and ultimately the punishment phase.

A dead end of an information cycle can be accidentally triggered by a seemingly innocent call to an association. I once received a call asking for an updated address of an old friend. I did not give him the address. I called the person to let her know someone was asking for her address. She profusely thanked me for not giving out the address. A stalker was one phone call away from reclaiming a link he was still looking for — access.

Beyond angst, fear and anger comes trauma, survivor’s guilt, remembering, reliving and becoming re-traumatized. I am unclear about the goal and purpose of the Gazette’s series on the deaths of Sherry Morton and her son, Cedric. For what purpose did we see excruciating details over and over and over? Why front page coverage for 14 days? Who monitors a child’s reaction to reading the series?

The “Newsroom Insider” article by the author, Larry Parnass, that accompanied the last installment of the series clarified aspects of the intent of these articles.

But I still feel we need to understand more about your intention and expected outcomes.

The saying “too much information” comes to my mind. Too much focus on information and not enough on analysis. You show us these survivors’ pain so clearly that we feel it, but what do you want us, your readers, to think about and act upon in 2013?

Too much focus on one individual family when, sadly, many readers have known family violence and suffering, both in the past and occurring today. Too much focus on “I,” not “we/us.” What is our role — your readers — in addressing domestic violence in 2013?

We see graphic films and photographs in the media labeled with warnings of violence so we can make informed choices about what we and our children witness. Is this type of journalism with minute details of the torturous deaths of this mother and child appropriate to spread before us minus any warning that we will be shocked, outraged and sickened, cry many times and be left without a clear understanding of why the journalist believes it appropriate to fill us with so much pain?

Even if the family gave permission for release of the information, as was the case here, why were the risks of exposure for others not considered and mentioned?

Information can lead to death. I hope and pray for a world with less violence and a community without violence. I hope that shelters like Safe Passage become unnecessary. In the interim, please support all efforts to eradicate violence in ourselves, our families and our community.

Sally J. Lemaire is a former executive director of a shelter for battened women in Manchester, N.H., and lives in South Hadley.

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