You know how on cop shows there's often a veteran detective who can't let go of an unsolved case for years? My wife M.C. Moewe has been like that because of a story she reported that no publication will touch.
She's a former investigative reporter who worked at the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Fort Worth Star-Telegram and other newspapers.
Around a decade ago a big assignment was dropped on her desk: Family courts were giving custody of kids to a parent accused of sexual abuse and denying custody to the parent who alleged abuse -- even when credible evidence and experts raised alarms. Judges were delegating their responsibility to investigate to custody evaluators, experts shielded from legal liability who claimed that the concerned parent suffered from Parental Alienation Syndrome, a discredited psychiatric theory employed to completely dismiss allegations a child is being abused by a parent.
Twice her story was accepted by editors, prepared for publication and then killed right before it saw print.
It's the kind of story that needs a big media organization behind it. She tried several times to get it published, learning more each year about the subject as she heard from desperate mothers who lost custody of their children once they reported concerns about possible abuse. By her count, she now knows 30 women who've suffered this fate. I've heard her take long phone calls with these moms many times, and twice she attended the Battered Mother's Custody Conference. She's become an expert on a subject she never got to report on.
Last month, M.C. decided to tell the story of the scandal in the family courts as a weekly series for Daily Kos. She isn't running the specific story that got spiked, but instead writes about the entire system. The first installment explains her reasoning:
If I couldn't shine a light on a problem as bad as this one, then journalism just didn't fit with me anymore.
So I decided to come here and write what I normally call thumbsuckers –- stories that explain how a system is broken –- about our family court system.
She filed the sixth story in the series today, and it's a huge one: Mandatory reporters who tell the authorities about child abuse, as required by law, are losing their careers for coming forward:
After two preschool children indicated their father was abusing them and one child tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease, a health care professional treating the youngsters followed her state's mandatory reporting law -- but now she's the one in trouble.
"They act like I made it all up," the professional, who agreed to be interviewed on the condition of anonymity, said of her state licensing board. "I have lost business and I'm having trouble getting back into a couple of insurance networks."
She's confident she made the right decision to report the suspected sexual abuse but is baffled why a state agency has joined the alleged abuser in questioning her motives. "Less than five percent of children who report sex abuse are telling lies," said the professional.
Child psychologists and others who work to protect abused children say this is a common scenario -- they report abuse and suffer retaliation when the alleged abuser files a complaint against them. They say the actions taken to punish them by government agencies speak louder than the mandatory child abuse reporting laws.
Within minutes of posting the story, she started hearing from mandatory reporters who fear the consequences of doing the right thing. One said, "After reporting, in Pennsylvania, I hold my breath for a month."
M.C. has always been a brave and conscientious journalist. I respect and applaud her so much for refusing to drop the issue. With the rise of "citizen journalism," I would have thought that more publications would be open to rock-solid, investigative journalism that goes beyond a good lede and a few soundbite quotes.
I know she didn't do this to receive recognition, but these are the types of stories that deservedly win awards for breaking dangerous silences.
Good job, M.C.