Shaping a Future Generation of Journalists

Journalism master's student pose with Katherine Hull Fliflet, RAINN's vice president of communications, and Liz Seccuro, member of RAINN's speakers bureau

“Don’t make assumptions. Let a survivor share his or her story in their own words.” That was the core advice given to student journalists earlier this month.

For the third consecutive year, RAINN experts met with members of the next generation of journalists from Georgetown University to discuss the media's portrayal of sexual violence, and share best practices on interviewing survivors of sexual assault.

Katherine Hull Fliflet, RAINN’s vice president of communications, and Liz Seccuro, a member of RAINN’s Speakers Bureau and National Leadership Council, met with members of a master’s program course at Georgetown University’s School of Journalism led by Linda Kramer Jenning, adjunct professor Georgetown, Washington editor for Glamour, and president Journalism & Women Symposium (not official until Nov. 2).

"Hearing directly from Liz and Kate provides my class with an invaluable perspective. My goal is to give these future journalists the tools to treat with sensitivity and dignity any interviews with survivors they might do in the course of their careers. Liz is amazingly generous in sharing her story and offering insights on what to do and not to do when interviewing survivors. By speaking with these students, Kate also makes sure they understand how to use RAINN as a trusted resource and how to seek the context and background to report these important stories,” said Kramer Jennings.

Hull and Seccuro shared best practices for interviewing survivors of sexual violence, including a sampling checklist of questions and tips, such as:

 

  • Set a tone of respect. Ask the survivor if there is anything they would prefer not to discuss. Be mindful of boundaries and offer breaks if the interview runs long.
  • “Victim” or “survivor”? Ask your interviewee if they have a preference.
  • Anonymity or not? Many survivors are comfortable using their real name, while others may prefer to use a pseudonym or first name only. Ask which they prefer.
  • What are you interested in discussing with the survivor? Are you focused on a specific aspect of the survivor’s experience? If possible, provide a few examples of the questions you may ask.
  • Are there legal considerations? Does the media outlet require a report or conviction in the survivor’s case to feature their story?
  • Avoid giving advice, even if you have dealt with a similar situation. Keep in mind that survivors may have already taken action.
  • Thank the survivor for sharing his/her story. Follow up with information about when and where the story will run.

 

"The synergy of RAINN, Georgetown, the students, and the topics, not only feeds me as a fellow journalist, but as a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence," stated Seccuro. "I would be hard-pressed to find two organizations who care as much about the potential to save lives as they are to shine a respectful and powerful light on one of life's most painful narratives.”

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it's not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through RAINN's National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE and online.rainn.org.

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