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Interviewing victim-survivors

May 2, 2021

Talking to and listening to victim-survivors is a critical element in improving reporting on violence against women and their children. Our Watch has developed some straightforward interviewing tips to support you.

Respectful, safe and accurate reporting on violence against women shows that, as a community, we do not condone violence. Our page about sources and interviewing outlines important things to keep in mind to ensure your media reporting includes accurate sources and does not cause further harm.

Before a story breaks

  • Educate yourself. Violence against women can take different forms and change through life. Abuse of an older woman by her adult children can look different to violence against a child or a partner.
  • Build ongoing relationships and trust with experts and survivor advocacy groups.  This is especially important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Building trust with Indigenous elders is an important first step before reporting on issues that impact their communities.
  • Acknowledge services working with survivors have few resources. They may not be able to provide you with interviewees, or there may be safety reasons why survivor-media engagement is not advised.

When a story breaks

  • Give survivors or their families space. Immediately after an event, they may be in shock and not able to fully comprehend what they are consenting to by speaking to you.
  • Act honestly and respect their rights. Survivors and their families may not want to talk.
  • Consider the impact on those involved.

Before the interview

  • Know the risks and support survivors to be aware of them. Survivors could experience retribution, public backlash or online abuse, or they could be identified. Sharing their story might affect legal proceedings.
  • Explain the implications of being named. Once in the public realm other journalists can use their story without their consent.
  • Allow the survivor to feel in control. Let them choose the location of the interview or bring a support person along. Suggest they have a plan for the day the story comes out.

During the interview

  • Focus on the process of the interview as well as the outcome.
  • Give them enough time to tell their story.
  • Reflect the survivor’s objective in your reporting. Ask: “Why are you telling your story?”
  • Ask open ended questions. Ask: “What are you able to tell me about what happened?”
  • Ask how they want to be identified. Preferred pronouns; cultural connections. Are they a ‘victim’ or ‘survivor’? If they have a disability, how would they like this referred to?

After the interview

  • Ensure you have informed consent. Give them a right of reply. Be transparent about how you will use their story.
  • Explain the post-interview process. They need to know fact-checking is not because you don’t believe their story.
  • Keep survivors informed. Let them know when their story will go live, or if there are hold-ups or changes. Prepare them for comments on social media.

Where can sexual assault survivors consent to be named?

Not all Australian states and territories have the same rules when it comes to identifying sexual assault victims. This can make it difficult for journalists and victim-survivors when telling a story.

Check out a summary of the current media laws at #LetUsSpeak.

Find more information about reporting on violence against women, or download the Our Watch reporting guidelines.

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