Victim Media Advocacy:
How to Facilitate Sensitive and Respectful Treatment of Crime Victims
Victim service providers often receive requests from the media to “get a victim” for a story or program. Victims’ participation in interviews can offer a critical human touch to a story and personalize crime and its impact from a real person who has been harmed. However, careful consideration must be given to the victim’s safety, level of stress and trauma, and any possible negative effects of giving an interview.
Victim service providers can think and plan proactively to respond to media requests for victims:
- Develop and continually update a list of victims who want to speak to the media and are comfortable doing so (“Crime Victim’s Media Handbook” offers extensive resources to help victims become effective public spokespersons).
- Identify victims of different types of crime—both violent and nonviolent—who are diverse by gender, age, race or ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and geography.
- Avoid simply providing referrals. Act as a liaison between the victim and the media. Information that can help victims decide whether or not to do an interview includes—
- The advocate’s knowledge of the news medium and interviewer.
- Range of topics for the interview.
- Other people who may be interviewed for the story or program (such as the defendant or defense counsel).
- Preinterview and interview logistics (day, time, and location).
- Any background information the victim should be prepared to provide (either personal about his or her case, or information related to specific types of crime and victims’ rights).
- Whether or not the media wants the victim to physically appear on a broadcast program or have a photograph taken for print publications; and/or if alternatives are available that facilitate the interview while protecting the victim’s privacy.
The advocate should always offer to help the victim prepare for the interview and accompany him or her upon request.
Advocates’ knowledge of victim trauma and the advocate’s past experiences with specific news media can help determine the appropriateness of referring victims for media interviews. Referrals to victims should never be provided if—
- A criminal or juvenile case is ongoing and justice officials advise against any media interviews.
- The victim’s personal safety is or may be put at risk by conducting an interview.
- A victim’s recent media experiences have been stressful or traumatic.
- The use of a victim is sought only for sensational purposes, or the news medium has a history of revictimizing victims by insensitive treatment.
- The story seeks to bring the victim and his or her actual offender together without the full understanding and consent of the victim.
Over the years, numerous ethical issues specific to victim advocacy and the news media have been identified (Seymour and Lowrance; National Organization for Victim Assistance; Michigan State University Victims and the Media Program). They are instructive in providing guidance to victim service providers who assist and/or represent victims who choose to deal with the media.
Victim service providers should—
- Be clear about and honor the victim’s wishes concerning news media coverage of his or her tragedy.
- Protect the privacy of victims who do not wish to have contact with the news media.
- Seek a victim’s explicit (written) consent when providing information about him or her to the media.
- Seek collaboration between the victim/survivor and those involved with his or her case in dealing with the media.
- Know (well) the victim they are representing.
- Speak on the victim’s behalf only after securing consent and after the advocate is clear about what details can be publicly shared.
- Provide victims with guidelines about how to deal with the news media (see “Tips for Crime Victims and Survivors: Guidelines for Media Interviews in Section I of this Guide).
- Help victims, upon request, prepare for print or broadcast media interviews and consider the key points and issues they want to be made public (see “Tips for Media Interviews” in Section I of this Guide).
- Inform victims that talking to the media is their choice and explain any options and the consequences of such choices.
- When necessary, provide a neutral location for the interview to protect the privacy of the victim’s home and/or workplace.
- Accompany victims, upon request, to media interviews and press conferences.
- Help the victim establish ground rules and boundaries for media interviews and make the victim’s wishes clear to the media.
- Reserve the right to end an interview if the victim shows signs of trauma during interactions with the news media.
- Discourage the participation of young children in media interviews, and work closely with parents/guardians to represent the best interests of child victims while protecting their privacy.
- Provide timely and accurate information and referrals to journalists who request them.
Most professional journalism associations have adopted “codes of ethics” that address a wide range of issues relating to responsible reporting. Some include language that is specific to news coverage of crime and victimization; i.e., “Treat all subjects of news coverage with respect and dignity, showing particular compassion to victims of crime or tragedy;” 2 and “Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.”3
The Project for Excellence in Journalism has developed a “Citizens' Bill of Journalism Rights:”
- Proof that the journalists’ first loyalty is to citizens.
- That journalists maintain independence from those they cover.
- That journalists will monitor power and give voice to the voiceless.
- A forum for public criticism and problem solving.
- News that is proportional and relevant.4
Just as it is important for news media professionals to understand the concerns of victims and those who serve them, it is helpful for victim service providers to be familiar with the range of codes of ethics that guide journalists. Figure 1 includes electronic links to various journalism codes of ethics and guiding principles.
Web Site URL With
American Society of Newspaper Editors
American Society of Magazine Editors
Associated Press Managing Editors
National Press Photographers Association
New York Times Ethical Journalism Guidebook
Radio and Television News Directors Association
Society of Professional Journalists
Community of Concerned Journalists
Project for Excellence in Journalism
2. Radio-Television News Directors Association & Foundation, “Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct,” http://www.rtdna.org/pages/media_items/code-of-ethics-and-professional-conduct48.php, accessed March 30, 2007.