RAINN Educates Journalists About Interviewing Survivors of Sexual Assault

Jennifer Marsh, RAINN staffer, on a panel at Press Club

The need for accuracy and sensitivity in reporting on sexual violence is more important for journalists that ever before, due to increased coverage of high-profile celebrity cases, such as Bill Cosby.

RAINN provided critical subject-matter expertise as part of a lecture series organized by the National Press Club Journalism Institute. The series, which focuses on educating journalists on topics in the rapidly-changing profession, featured Jennifer Marsh, RAINN’s VP of Victim Services, in its latest event entitled, “Learn How to Cover Sexual Assault.” Her insight from the victim services field, drawn from nearly a decade of experience providing services for survivors of sexual assault, was crucial for the journalists in attendance.

“Interviewing survivors is different from interviewing other kinds of sources,” said Marsh. “It’s best to set expectations at the beginning. Be upfront about editorial control and explain that the story’s focus may change at some point. Survivors may feel they have lost a sense of control because of their experience. It’s crucial not to repeat that experience through your interviewing approach. Listening, empathy and follow-up are key.”

The event also included distinguished journalist Bruce Shapiro, Executive Director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, a nationally-recognized resource center and think tank for journalists who cover tragedy, violence and conflict.

Kristen Lombardi, an award-winning journalist and senior reporter with The Center for Public Integrity, was also a panelist, drawing on her experience reporting on the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal in the early 2000s and a special investigation on campus sexual assault in 2009.

RAINN Speakers Bureau member and survivor, Liz Securro, offered tips to journalists in the room, drawing on her own experience with the media after sexual assault. Liz was interviewed by the press in 1984 and again in 2005 when the case went to trial. Securro and RAINN’s Katherine Hull Fliflet have previously spoken to journalism students at Georgetown University about how to sensitively interview survivors and accurately report on the issue.

Take Action:

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization and was named one of "America's 100 Best Charities" by Worth magazine. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE and online.rainn.org) in partnership with more than 1,000 local sexual assault service providers and operates the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense. In 2015, the Online Hotline expanded to offer services in Spanish at rainn.org/es. The hotlines have helped more than two million people since 1994. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help victims and ensure that rapists are brought to justice. For more information about RAINN, please visit rainn.org.