U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

2024 National Crime Victims’ Rights Week Resource Guide

Advocating With the News Media

News coverage of crime greatly influences public perceptions about victims. As reporters rush to meet deadlines, particularly in the immediate aftermath of crimes, their reporting may not reflect the desired sensitivity to traumatized victims. Because many reporters do not receive training about how to interact with victims, you have an opportunity to help them approach crime stories with sensitivity. 

As a victim advocate, you play a key role in advocating for victim-sensitive coverage of crime.

Tips for Reporters 

In writing news stories about crime, reporters have the difficult task of seeking interviews from victims and, if victims agree to speak on the record, ethically conduct those interviews. Advocates can help reporters prepare to speak with victims by offering suggestions about how to approach victims so that they feel comfortable and safe. Educate reporters on how to address crime victims by sharing the following guidelines. 

Asking for the Interview 

  • Recognize that victims may be coping with shock and trauma.
  • Approach victims initially without equipment — notebooks, tape recorders, cameras, and lights — when making a connection.
  • Introduce yourself as a reporter, give the victims your name and title, and briefly explain what you hope to achieve with your story.
  • Express concern for the victims by saying, “I am sorry for what happened to you” or “I am sorry for your loss.”
  • Ask victims how they would prefer to be addressed, and observe that preference in all of your questions.
  • Give victims a reason to speak with you by explaining the purpose of the story, the fact that it will be published, and why the victim’s participation is important.
  • Tell the victims how much time you need and observe that time limit.
  • Allow the victims to set whatever boundaries they need, and ensure they feel included and respected in every step of the process.
  • Courteously accept the victims’ refusal if they are unwilling to be interviewed.
  • If a victim declines, express interest in a future interview, leave a business card or send an email with your contact information, and ask for the names of others who may be willing to speak. 

Logistics and Other Considerations

  • Make the victim comfortable. Offer a chair or suggest a comfortable, safe place to talk.
  • Respect the victim’s space. People experiencing trauma often do not want to be touched, so hand the microphone to the victim and explain how to adjust it.
  • Ask permission to record the interview.
  • Clarify ground rules; explain that anything the victim says during the interview may be used in the published report.
  • If the victims have asked to remain anonymous, thoroughly check your story for details that may allow someone to discover their identity. If the victims feel that publishing certain information could put their safety at risk, respect their right to omit that information or to pull their story altogether. Do not offer victims anonymity unless you can reasonably guarantee it; check with your supervisor first.
  • Avoid filming or photographing the victim in a distressed or emotional state. Instead, choose powerful images that illustrate the victim’s resilience. 

Victim Advocacy 

During interviews with the help of victim advocates, reporters can approach the interview with sensitivity toward victims and the understanding that they may be undergoing trauma associated with the crime. Advocates who are present during the interview may step in if the reporter’s questions become too invasive or difficult or if the victims become upset. By prioritizing the victims’ needs, advocates can keep the interview on track and encourage the reporter to do so as well. 

Information for Victims 

Advocating for victims with the media also includes helping victims decide whether to accept interviews, how to minimize invasions of their privacy, and how to exercise their rights and options in dealing with reporters. Advocates can also help victims anticipate questions and prepare how to answer them. If victims do not want media attention, advise them to change privacy settings on their social media accounts or even consider putting a notice on their door indicating that they do not wish to be disturbed.

Before the Interview

By giving victims the following checklist of questions and walking through it with them, you can help victims decide whether to participate in an interview. 

  • What are your goals in speaking to the media? What purpose do you hope the interview will serve? Will it help the community learn more about your loved one or understand the impact of crime on victims? Are you willing to answer questions from reporters who might not understand your pain or your point of view? 
  • Would the interview invade your privacy? If you are still struggling with the emotional, physical, or financial impact of the crime, would speaking to a reporter disturb you or violate your privacy? You may want to discuss the pros and cons with a victim advocate before making your decision. 
  • Does refusing the interview increase or decrease your control over what is published about the crime? Denying an interview will not prevent publicity about your case. If the story is newsworthy, the media will publish the story with or without interviewing you. Also, an interview may provide you with an opportunity to offer your perspective on the crime. 
  • Would you prefer that someone else speak for you? If you would rather not be interviewed, you may ask someone else — an attorney, a victim advocate, a clergy member, a family member, or a friend — to represent you in media interviews. That person can also release written statements on your behalf or accompany you to interviews if you decide to accept them.
  • Would granting an interview affect the investigation or prosecution of the crime? Giving an interview may compromise the investigation or prosecution of a crime. You may want to speak with an advocate or an attorney before deciding to grant an interview.
  • Do you want to set conditions for the interview? Although reporters and producers may not agree to the conditions you suggest, they will most likely comply with reasonable requests if they want your interview. You have the right to ask or express your wishes regarding: 
    • time and location of the interview; 
    • visiting the set or location before an interview; 
    • advance information about questions, the reporter’s angle, or plans for using your interview; 
    • requesting that a victim advocate, lawyer, or support person be present; 
    • issues you will not discuss; 
    • requesting a specific reporter or producer; 
    • protecting your identity (through silhouettes and electronic distortion of your voice); 
    • excluding children and other family members from the interview; 
    • excluding photos and other images you find offensive; and
    • excluding offenders or other participants to whom you might object. 

Preparing Victims for the Interview 

Share the following tips with victims who agree to interviews: 

  • Bring a trusted person to provide support. 
  • Prepare for the interview by having an advocate list questions the reporter may ask and rehearsing responses. 
  • Refuse to answer a question by using the following tactics: 
    • Polite refusal: “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to talk about that.” 
    • Bridging, or changing the subject to what you want to talk about. Answer by saying, “What is really important about that issue is …” and then talk about what you think the audience should know. 
  • Never speak “off the record.” Reporters may publish or broadcast anything you say. 
  • If you don’t know the answer to a question, simply say you don’t know. Don’t guess or speculate.
  • If the reporter did not ask a question that you feel they should have, tell them at the end of the interview that you have something important you’d like to add and offer that information.
  • You may request a correction or clarification if the article is inaccurate or you are quoted out of context. Newspapers and other outlets may publish corrections or clarifications and television news may correct serious errors (although the option to do so is theirs). You can also contact management at the news outlet before publication or broadcast if the reporter was aggressive, insensitive, or obtained information dishonestly.
  • You may refuse a follow-up interview, even if you have previously agreed to be interviewed a second time.

Victim advocates can play a key role in mediating between reporters and victims, especially when victims feel vulnerable and stressed. The victims, their families, and the wider community have an important interest in ensuring that media coverage is sensitive and accurate and does not put victims under duress or at risk. 

How to Organize a Press Conference

If the victim is feeling overwhelmed by media requests but still feels there is value in speaking, consider organizing a press conference so that they can provide their information only once. The press conference can be recorded, if agreed upon by the victim, and shared on social media so reporters can access it in the future without further disturbing the victim. 

  • It may be helpful to arrange for several speakers so that the victim is not alone. Attorneys, law enforcement officers working with the victim, faith leaders, advocates, and other family members and friends are all good choices.
  • Be sure to have a designated person to open the press conference and introduce speakers and establish ground rules, such as whether the victim will or will not accept follow-up questions after reading a statement. This is also a good opportunity to outline what questions will not be answered at all.
  • Be sure to send the invitation via email to news outlets. If you need help with those contacts, consider reaching out to the public information office at the appropriate law enforcement agency as they will likely be able to share contact information with you. 
  • Rehearse the order of speakers in advance and practice answering anticipated questions. 
  • Make sure there is enough room for everyone, especially if you anticipate TV news crews that will need to place cameras. 
  • It is best to provide some written facts in a press packet to reporters, as this will help ensure accurate information is reported and cut down on follow-up requests. If you include visuals, they should not be exploitive or retraumatizing to the individual (i.e., crime scene photos, photos of the victim in the aftermath of the crime, etc.).

Bonnie Bucqueroux and Anne Seymour, 2009, A Guide for Journalists Who Report on Crime and Crime Victims, Washington, DC: Justice Solutions. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from www.mediacrimevictimguide.com/journalistguide.pdf

National Network to End Domestic Violence, 2020, Addressing Domestic Violence in the Media: Resources for Reporters, Editors, and Media Professionals, Washington, DC. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from https://nnedv.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Addressing-Domestic-Violence-in-the-Media-web-page-29JUN2020.pdf.

Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, 2013, Working with Victims and Survivors: Minimise Further Harm, New York, NY: Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from https://dartcenter.org/content/working-with-victims-and-survivors-minimise-further-harm.


Date Created: March 21, 2024