Victim Media Advocacy:
How to Facilitate Sensitive and Respectful Treatment of Crime Victims
America is an increasingly diverse nation, with different cultures represented in victims, alleged and convicted perpetrators, and communities that are affected by crime. Today, the term “culture” can encompass race, ethnicity, country of origin, age, sexual orientation, religion, disability, and even geography (highly urban or rural/remote communities).
The news media share concerns about cultural competence in news reporting. The diversity of the United States is reflected in both news stories and news audiences, and the media seek a balance that addresses issues important to both.
Cultural competence in media relations should be a priority for victim service providers:
- Learn all you can about different cultures and promote cultural competence training, both within your agency and collaboratively with the media, as it relates to news reporting.
- Increase your value as a reliable source by increasing the diversity of your spokespersons.
- Reflect the diversity of the victims you serve through your staff (and for nonprofit organizations, your board of directors). This is an intrinsic value that extends beyond media relations.
- Be sensitive to the cadre of victims maintained for media referrals. If white, middle class spokespersons comprise the core of your referrals, it’s critical to diversify.
- Remember that a person’s culture is only one part of who he or she is. It is impossible to accurately represent an entire culture in the media or otherwise.
- Disregard a victim’s culture, race, or ethnicity unless it involves a hate crime perpetrated against a person or community of a specific culture. However, cultural diversity in a specific story can identify nuances or issues that affect victims because of their culture, which can promote greater understanding of issues such as crime reporting, the impact of crime on diverse victims, and correcting false assumptions directly related to culture.
- Be aware that a victim’s culture may affect his or her willingness to report a crime committed by a family member or someone known to them, and that the family may react in a manner that differs from the mainstream culture.
- Be cognizant of the needs of victims who are newly immigrated or illegal immigrants, who may not understand either justice processes or how the American media operate.
- Develop important relationships with culturally diverse communities within your jurisdiction:
- Establish and cultivate relationships with “gatekeepers” who are leaders of culturally diverse communities. You can work together to improve outreach and services to victims, and to collaborate on developing spokespersons who can offer expertise on crime and victimization (including victims and survivors).
- Consider and document false assumptions or stereotypes that are often made based on culture, and develop a strategy to address these issues with the media and through public awareness initiatives.
- Develop a database of culturally specific news stations and publications and, for every victim outreach or public awareness initiative, provide this information and spokespersons to these media.
- Sponsor resources and booths at different ethnic events that enhance connections to culturally diverse communities.
- Be sensitive to the need for translation and interpreters, and the nuances for both. Considerations should—
- Make information available in the languages that are represented within a community’s diverse culture, and have spokespersons who speak different languages. Relationships with gatekeepers (see above) can help facilitate translation.
- Sponsor TTY and TDD telephone numbers for Deaf victims and, at public events, provide interpreters for the Deaf.
- Seek translation of victim and public awareness information into Braille for blind or vision-impaired people.
- Ensure that all public awareness events are accessible in accordance with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.
- Avoid (and ask reporters to avoid) making assumptions about victims based solely on their culture.
The Poynter Institute continually updates its resources for journalists related to cultural competence and diversity, and is a good resource for victim service providers: http://www.poynter.org/uncategorized/3331/eight-steps-toward-cultural-competence/ .