Asking the hard questions
Lecturer Amy DePaul uncovers Santa Ana's high rates of domestic violence
By Erika Higbee, 2nd-year English major
Journalism as community activism
“Santa Ana’s rate of domestic violence calls to police per person is higher than that of any other major city in California. Its rate is nearly twice that of Los Angeles and close to three times that of neighboring Anaheim,” wrote Amy DePaul, lecturer in the UCI Literary Journalism Program, in her first installment of three articles on domestic violence in Santa Ana, Calif. and nearby immigrant communities, which published in Voice of OC.
While DePaul has been a journalist for over a decade, she’s spent the past four years focused on public health and issues of poverty. Looking at the connections between wealth, education, and race, DePaul has developed articles and multimedia projects on immigrant health in Orange County, health inequities, and crowded and substandard apartment living in Santa Ana. These efforts have won awards from the L.A. and Orange County Press Clubs and a fellowship from the Center for Health Journalism at USC.
DePaul began researching and writing her three-part story, “Battered Lives: Santa Ana’s Ongoing Struggle With Domestic Violence,” in 2014 after first learning about the issue through contact with Santa Ana’s community leaders. The data, according to DePaul, was “alarming,” and revealed “an overlooked connection between domestic violence and immigration.”
DePaul believes journalism can play a role in disseminating data in a way that can catapult action and her research on Santa Ana’s high concentration of domestic violence proves her point. Instead of just reporting on Santa Ana’s high rates of domestic violence, she interviewed abuse sufferers and survivors, community leaders and activists, and found an undeniable connection between domestic violence and undocumented families. Her efforts also showed the role that police indifference can play when it comes to communities where victims are afraid to seek help due to fears of deportation or losing their children. The day after the article was published, local police contacted a domestic violence community activist that interviewed in the story and asked to work more closely to address the problem.
Mentoring future journalists
DePaul often collaborates with students by either sharing a by-line with them or connecting them with paid opportunities to write or conduct photo and news journalism. With this guidance, students in UCI’s Program in Literary Journalism gain real-world experience as journalists and are able to build their portfolios. Some recent examples include literary journalism student Mariah Castaneda’s photos on homeless people in the Santa Ana Riverbed, one of which the New York Times published. A recent article about dental health in low-income communities featured student photographer Jazley Sendjaja’s work. Students, DePaul mentions, often have valuable “community roots” that allow for the making of relevant and ongoing stories.
“I can help students develop and publish their work, and they can help me in reporting on communities where it’s tough for an outsider to gain access, because my students know the language and, in some cases, grew up in these communities,” DePaul says.
With the help of UCI Literary Journalism Program alumni Anthony Gibson, who worked to supplement the domestic violence story with videography, and Caitlin Whelan, who handled the photography, “Battered Lives” won awards in two categories, “Best News-Feature Story” and “Best Public Affairs Story” from the OC Press Club Competition this year.
DePaul is currently working on an article about homeless health and mortality. For fun, she recently wrote a longform article about big-wave body surfers at The Wedge, a legendary surf spot in Newport Beach.
Photo caption: Amy DePaul stands in front of her LJ21 (Reporting for Literary Journalism) students. Photo credit: Aditi Mayer