Primary sources can help readers learn more about intimate partner violence, but can also further perpetuate myths about the issue. As with most social issues, an expert source is ideal. Trained public officials and law enforcement officers, expert advocates, and survivors of intimate partner violence can provide nuanced commentary on the issue and change the framing from an isolated tragedy to a pressing social problem.
"'The attitudes that drive domestic violence are deeply embedded in our culture, and are very persistent,' said Liz Roberts, chief program officer at Safe Horizon, a victim services group." (New York Times, 4/10/16)
In some cases, a story can be made more effective by including a survivor of intimate partner violence as a source. This source could be the person involved in the story or a survivor who has become an advocate around the issue of intimate partner violence. Before reaching out to a survivor, consider if their experience is a good fit for your story. Below are tips for interviewing survivors.
Define your role
Be clear about your role as a reporter and your limitations in what you are able to do to help.
Be clear about the editorial or review process including editorial control and fact checking.
Explain the purpose of the interview and its potential risks and benefits to the survivor themselves and to readers generally.
Set clear expectations for the structure and timing of the interview.
Respect privacy and confidentiality
Determine if you need to protect the survivor's identity or if any other elements of the interview need to remain confidential.
Options for protecting privacy include avoiding identifying photos (e.g. photographing hands only) and excluding/replacing identifying information such as names and locations.
Obtain informed consent including an overview of the interview, the right not to take part, and answers to any questions they may have.
Give the survivor agency
Respect and believe the survivor and their experiences.
Listen without judging or giving advice and pay attention to your body language and facial expressions
Allow the survivor to pause or stop the interview at any time.
Understand that the survivor has gone through a traumatic event, and may have a history of trauma. This may effect the person's ability to tell a linear story or answer your questions in logical manner. Be patient and listen.
Mirror the language the survivor uses when referring to themselves, the abuse, the abusive partner, or the relationship.
Avoid victim blaming
Recognize that trauma can affect individuals and the decisions they make regarding safety in many different ways.
Avoid questions such as "What did you do to make your partner angry?" and "Why don't you just leave?"
Ask open-ended questions, e.g. "What can you tell me about…" "What do you remember about…"