Breaking News Stories
Covering Specific Victim Populations
Other Considerations
Special Challenges in Reporting
Special Challenges in Reporting
High Impact Stories
Working With Service Providers
Creating Ethics Policy
Victims Right to Privacy
Self Care for Journalists
Resources and Promising Practices
Glossary and Endnotes

Link to A News Media Guide for Victim Service Providers
Link to Crime Victim Outreach Tip Sheets



Covering Specific Victim Populations

Page Index
a. Homicide
i. Avoid the inadvertant death notification
ii. Focus on life, not death
iii. Use care when asking for a photograph or video of the deceased
b. Sexual assault and rape
i. Abductions
ii. Incest
c. Domestic violence
d. Drunk driving
e. Vulnerable populations (children/elderly)

Dealing With Specific Kinds of Crime
There can be specific dynamics for different kinds of crimes in Act I stories.

Black ribbon commemorating homicide victim awareness.

a. When dealing with homicide. Special considerations for Act I stories involving homicide include—

i. Avoid the inadvertent death notice. Check with your editors (and follow up with the police, if necessary) before approaching family members of a homicide victim to make sure they have been notified by police. Even when reporters are cautious, they can find that the person they reach on the telephone or who answers the door has not been notified of the death of a loved one. In those cases, the reporter must—

Woman on phone with shocked expression on her face (Staged with profesisonal model).

    • Verify the identity. Check with the person who answered to make sure you dialed the right number or have the right address. Keep asking questions until you verify that you have the right family. (One reporter did not find that he had contacted the wrong family until he asked the fifth question designed to verify the identification.)
    • Apologize and acknowledge that your information could be faulty. Perhaps there has been an error on the part of law enforcement or there is a mix-up of some sort. Reporters should apologize for the problem and promise to help the family find out what has happened.

Teal ribbon representing Sexual Assault Awareness.

b. When dealing with sexual assault and rape. The trauma that sexual assault and rape inflicts on victims, as well as the stigma still associated with the crime, makes reporting on victims of sexual violence especially daunting. It is important for reporters and editors to understand that sexual assault is not a crime about sex but about violence, power, and control. Journalists should avoid reporting details about the assault in ways that imply the victim’s behavior caused the crime (walking alone at night, drinking alcohol). Important as well is that news articles do not treat acquaintance rape as less serious than so-called “stranger danger” cases. Remember also that the preferred term is acquaintance rape rather than date rape, since the latter implies a romantic relationship where none may have existed and where the existence of any such relationship is irrelevant to the crime.

Mockup of fictional newspaper with a headline that reads, "Serial Rapist Caught."

There are usually few instances when a news organization will try to interview a sexual assault victim immediately following the crime. Most news organizations also have a policy of refusing to reveal a victim’s name without explicit permission. Some victims may agree to an interview only if their actual name is not used, or if an alias is provided in lieu of their real name; it’s important to remember that this is the victim’s choice. However, there are situations in which it can be more difficult to keep the victim’s name confidential.

Purple ribbon representing Domestic Violence Awareness.

c. When dealing with domestic violence. Part of the dynamic that keeps many victims from coming forward and reporting their victimization to police stems from feelings of shame, combined with fear that others will find out what has happened to them. One of the most difficult situations that newspapers face is when domestic violence results in a murder-suicide. News organizations that treat the perpetrator who commits suicide as a victim risk offending family and friends of the murder victim.

Red ribbon representing Drunk Driving Awareness.

d. When dealing with drunk driving. Organizations such as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) have helped dispel the myth that drunk driving is not a crime. Victims are justifiably upset when news accounts minimize cases of drunk driving that may or may not have harmed others, since the crime always has the potential to claim lives and cause injury.

e. When dealing with potentially vulnerable populations. Reporters should exercise special care when interviewing people at both ends of the age spectrum, from young children to the elderly. Some children are simply too young to be subjected to re-living their experiences during interviews without the danger of inflicting additional harm. Young children also risk being more easily manipulated by inadvertently leading questions. Experts who debrief children about their victimization for law enforcement agencies and courts receive extensive specialized training in how to interview child victims without revictimizing them or inadvertently eliciting false statements. Reporters without such training are ill-equipped to do a good job and should not be expected or ordered to do so. Elderly people and people with disabilities may also have unique needs, especially with Act I stories when the trauma is fresh.

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