Section 1: Victim Media Advocacy
Crime Victims and Public Awareness
Impact on Your Organization
Educating the Media
Impact of Coverage Can Affect Victims
Types of News Stories
Major Concerns of Coverage
Impact On Victims of Specific Crimes
Cultural Competency
Victim Privacy v. Media
The Role of Victim Service Providers
Victim Referrals to the Media
Tips for Crime Victims and Survivors

Victim Media Advocacy:
How to Facilitate Sensitive and Respectful Treatment of Crime Victims

Impact On Victims of Specific Crime

a. Rape and Sexual Assault
b. Domestic Violence
c. Child Victimization
d. Homicide
e. Drunk Driving

The Impact of News Media Coverage on Distinct Victim Populations

Every victim is unique, which makes the impact of crime unique. While some organizations serve all victims, the victim assistance field has also become specialized in how it assists and advocates for different victims of crime. When the news media cover different types of crime and victims, there are also unique aspects that victim service providers should consider as they seek to help victims. This section offers considerations for the news media coverage of—

a. Rape and Sexual Assault

Turquoise ribbon representing "Rape and Sexual Assault Awareness"A major concern of rape and sexual assault victims is having their identity exposed through the news media. Confidentiality is important to many victims and concerns about privacy result in many victims who don’t report rapes and sexual assaults for fear of others learning about the crime. Most media have policies that protect the identity of rape victims, and some states have passed laws that prevent anyone from publishing or broadcasting information that identifies sexual offense victims.

Victim service providers and survivors can work together to identify key issues that can help journalists understand the scope and nature of sexual assault in the United States and victims’ privacy concerns. For example:

Ethical considerations in media coverage of rape and sexual assault developed by the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault can be offered as suggestions to journalists who cover rape cases and victims:6 6. Judy Benitez, 2002, “Ethical Considerations in Media Coverage of Rape and Sexual Assault,” Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault.

The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma offers tips and tools to journalists covering sexual violence offered by sexual assault advocates, as a way to build mutually positive relationships

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b. Domestic Violence

Purple ribbon representing domestic violence awareness.Domestic violence is one of the most prevalent crimes in the United States—and one of the most underreported. It’s a crime that deserves media coverage within the broader context of family violence. It is essential that communities understand its prevalence; why victims often don’t report; why victims are afraid to testify in court against their abusers; and the devastating physical, emotional, financial, and social impact of such violence on victims and their children.

Utah State University professor Cathy Bullock, who has researched the news media’s coverage of domestic violence, wrote that:

“…there seems to be something lacking in newspaper coverage in general when it comes to domestic violence fatalities. I’ve studied coverage of such cases by newspapers in Washington state and Utah. While there were exceptions in both states, the coverage tended to present common misconceptions about domestic violence.

I suspect this is due in part to the time and other constraints of newspaper work. However, I still wonder how well reporters and editors understand the social ill they’re writing about. If they don’t understand domestic violence—what it is, the characteristics that set it apart from other forms of interpersonal violence, its patterns—they’re not bringing all the relevant facts to bear when they’re faced with questions about how to handle the coverage.

For example, it’s worth knowing that experts believe domestic violence is about the abuser’s need to dominate and control; that it often (but not always) plays out as a repeating cycle of tension-building then violence then remorse; that abusers may shift the blame for their actions to others.

The more I learn about domestic violence, the more I appreciate the fact that abusers have their own way of looking at relationships and don’t necessarily share others’ ideas about what’s logical and reasonable.

Granted, knowing more about domestic violence isn’t a fix-all that will allow reporters and editors to predict with certainty what abusers will do next or what effect coverage will have on their actions. But understanding domestic violence would allow journalists to better evaluate what’s at stake and better judge the possible consequences of coverage—not to mention better inform readers about an important social problem.”7 7. Cathy Bullock, “Understanding Patterns of Domestic Violence,” DART Center for Journalism and Trauma,, accessed March 30, 2007. (See bottom of page to activate link.)

Cracked house window with window dividers.The Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence offers tips for journalists to help them accurately cover domestic violence. Victim service providers can use these tips as a foundation for media interactions and training programs:

Adobe PDF available of list aboveClick here for printable pdf of list above.

Model house  balances on the edge of a virtual crack in the earth. Advocates for domestic violence victims can also review some of the “quick tips for covering domestic violence” published by the Dart Center as a good starting point to promote sensitive media coverage of domestic violence crimes.

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c. Child Victimization

Teal ribbon representing "Child Vicitmization" awareness.The victimization of children is major news, unfortunately on a regular basis. It can involve physical or sexual abuse by strangers or persons known to the child, child abductions, gross neglect by parents or caretakers, or mass crimes (such as school shootings or sexual abuse of many children by one perpetrator).

Many victim service providers strongly believe that children should be protected from the news media at all costs. Their rationale is based on—

Sad little girl with pony tails hugging a teddy bear.

The reality of the news media’s coverage of crimes against children is that journalists will seek to interview child victims. Although victim service providers can seek to protect the privacy of young victims, they cannot ultimately prevent them from being interviewed.

A recent publication from the Dart Center, “Covering Children & Trauma: A Guide for Journalism Professionals,” presents information for reporters and editors relevant to covering child victimization. While victim service providers may disagree with the basic premise of interviewing child victims, this publication offers insights into guidelines that journalists can follow when speaking to children who are victimized. It is helpful to understand the media’s point of view on the subject. “Covering Children & Trauma” can be accessed at

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d. Homicide

Black ribbon representing "Homicide" awareness.The impact of a homicide on surviving family members and friends is immeasurable. Nothing can prepare them for the shock, trauma, and devastation of finding out that a loved one has been murdered.

One of the major concerns related to homicide cases is death notification. Law enforcement and victim advocacy professionals should be trained to provide sensitive notification that takes into consideration the feelings and possible reactions of the surviving family members. It is critical to ensure that surviving family members receive the death notification from the proper authorities, not from the news media.

Woman with clipboard looking at man's profile. Another concern is learning graphic, gory details of the murder through the media, rather than by sensitive, trained law enforcement officials or victim advocates.

Victim service providers can help homicide family survivors deal with media inquiries:

Answering machine displaying message.


In “tips and tools for covering murder” (, the Dart Center offers six suggestions to journalists that victim service providers can also share with reporters who are covering homicides—

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Adobe PDF available of list aboveClick here for printable pdf of list above.

In 2007, the Los Angeles Times launched a new blog—“The Homicide Report”—that documents every homicide in Los Angeles County. Its author, Jill Leovy, describes it as an attempt “to reverse an age-old paradox of big-city crime reporting, which dictates that only the most unusual and statistically marginal homicide cases receive press coverage, those cases at the very eye of the storm—those which best expose the true statistical dimensions of the problem of deadly violence—remain unhidden.” 9 9. Jesse Tarbert, “Covering homicide: A new approach.” Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma,, accessed March 30, 2007. (See footnote at bottom of page to activate link.) The blog can be accessed at

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e. Drunk Driving

Drunk Driving awareness red ribbon. Drunk driving is a significant social problem that, as recently as 1980, was not even considered a crime in many states. Drinking and driving are no longer considered socially acceptable and underage drinking is no longer considered simply a “rite of passage,” due in large part to public awareness efforts sponsored by organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), often in partnership with the media. Drunk driving is a violent crime that injures and kills tens of thousands of people in America each year.

A longtime concern of drunk driving victims and survivors is the use of the term “accident” to describe drunk driving crimes. They believe that with all the public awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving, there is nothing “accidental” about a person’s decision to get behind the wheel of a vehicle while intoxicated. While references to “accidents” usually occur before a police investigation confirms the involvement of alcohol or other drugs, victim service providers can encourage the media to describe such incidents as “crimes” or “crashes.”

Wine glass with a small yellow toy car partially submerged in the partially filled glass with a set of car keys placed at the bottom of the glass. In 2003, MADD began its Media Awards Program to “recognize media professionals and organizations for outstanding coverage and advancement of issues related to MADD’s mission to stop drunk driving, support the victims of this violent crime, and prevent underage drinking.”  Victim service providers can nominate individual journalists and news media from their communities for a MADD Media Award. Further information and a nomination form are available at: .

Resources about Specific Types of Victimization

Statistics about different types of victimization, as well as the unique impact of different types of crime on victims, are available from the Office for Victims of Crime at In addition, many national organizations included in the “Resources” section of this guide can provide information and referrals to experts.

5. Dean G. Kilpatrick, 2007, “Drug-facilitated, Incapacitated and Forcible Rape: A National Study,” Charleston, SC:  Medical University of South Carolina, National Crime Victim Research and Treatment Center.

6. Judy Benitez, 2002, “Ethical Considerations in Media Coverage of Rape and Sexual Assault,” Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault.

7. Cathy Bullock, “Understanding Patterns of Domestic Violence,”   DART Center for Journalism and Trauma,, accessed March 30, 2007.

8. Kelly Starr, Revised 2006, Covering Domestic Violence: A Guide for Journalists and Other Media Professionals, Seattle, WA: Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

9. Jesse Tarbert, “Covering homicide: A new approach.” Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma,, accessed March 30, 2007.

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