2.Tools of the Trade
Covering gender-based violence requires radical honesty and transparency. The journalism community has undertaken significant efforts to provide journalists and photographers with the tools to create nuanced, respectful work.
This chapter provides concrete examples of what covering gender-based violence looks like in action Journalists should report ethically They should consider the impact of their work on survivors of violence and try to do no harm
The rules for covering gender-based violence involve approaching a story with significant planning, thought, and respect for the survivors. Covering gender-based violence also requires an understanding of its cultural and political contexts. In practice, this means respecting survivors if they don’t want to discuss what they have suffered and if they want to remain anonymous. Meaningful consent allows them to change their mind at any point during the reporting process up until the time of publication. Their safety and well-being always take precedent.
2.2.1. A case for meaningful consent
Handbook Contributor Jina Moore has covered gender, conflict, and human rights around the world since 2008. She teaches workshops in trauma-informed interviewing and ethics at several U.S. universities. She was the inaugural women’s rights reporter at BuzzFeed News and the East Africa Bureau Chief for the New York Times.
BY JINA MOORE, JUNE 2020
- Meaningful consent comes from the survivor
- Meaningful consent is given for specific use
- Meaningful consent is given at an appropriate time
- Meaningful consent requests are repeated
- Meaningful consent is trauma-informed
Consent is a cornerstone of journalism. Without consent, we can’t interview people, which is a big part of our job and, depending on local laws, we can’t record them for audio, video, and still photography. Without consent, we’re often stuck.
In many kinds of stories, we get (or take) our consent implicitly: When the mayor sets an appointment for a 10-minute interview, we understand that s/he is consenting, or agreeing, to be interviewed. When protesters fill the town square, we often interpret their public presence as consent to appear in our coverage.
In stories featuring survivors of violence, the practices around consent change, or they should. I’ve often heard advocates for the vulnerable call this “informed consent,” but in my 15 years interviewing and writing about survivors of trauma, I have found this formulation more legalistic than holistic. That is to say that it’s fairly easy to tick the boxes of informed consent and still act in ways that can reasonably be considered unethical.
I have found it more useful, for myself and my sources, to think about what I call meaningful consent. The key question behind meaningful consent is: Do I believe that this person – whose moment of vulnerability and/or trauma plays a key role in my story – understands the physical and psychological risks that may be involved in sharing their experiences with me and my audience, and has freely agreed to do so?
Meaningful consent is not about applying a set of rules; it’s about accounting for context in a trauma-informed manner. I think about meaningful consent as a trauma-informed practice because most situations where meaningful consent is needed involve stories and sources dealing with the aftermath of trauma, tragedy, and crisis. The aftermath may take minutes, months, or years, but the principles of meaningful consent remain the same, and they provide overall guidance as you interpret the specificities of your stories, as well as your publication’s resources and needs, among other things.
1. Meaningful consent comes from the survivor.
In some cases, family members may offer their consent for you to tell someone’s story. In other cases, professionals – your “fixer,” a victim’s lawyer, her employer, an NGO’s protection officer, a prison guard – may offer you permission to do an interview with a survivor. In both cases, those permissions may also be necessary to your work, by lowering cultural or administrative barriers to the interview. But no matter the setting, the culture, the language, or the time constraints, that consent is not enough. Individual consent is not institutional permission: You should never assume you have the consent to interview and/or photograph survivors because someone else gave you permission to speak to them. No one but the survivor has the power of consent.
No one but the survivor has the power of consent.
2. Meaningful consent is given for specific use.
Clarity of purpose is good manners when you’re interviewing a politician. It’s crucial when you’re interviewing a trauma survivor. They should know where their story is appearing, who the primary audience is, and how it will be accessed.
I usually keep a screenshot of the publication I am working for on my smartphone so that, even in remote areas with no internet, I can show someone what my publication looks like and how their story is likely to look when it runs. I also make sure they understand that the website I’m showing them, or have photographed, is available just as easily to everyone as it was to me just then.
It is our obligation as journalists to make sure people understand how we intend to use their information – and that we understand that consent is not fungible. Someone who agrees to let me record their voice so that my notes are accurate for print quotation is not tacitly agreeing to let me use that audio recording for a web documentary. In many parts of the world, some media are more dangerous than others. Being quoted by name in a foreign newspaper is understood by many people I have interviewed as much less risky than being interviewed, even anonymously, for radio broadcast.
Unless you have explained your purpose and your intended use to a survivor of violence or crisis, you don’t have meaningful consent.
3. Meaningful consent is given at an appropriate time.
Traumatic stress changes how the brain functions. In the immediate aftermath of a traumatic incident, survivors may be in shock. Researchers understand that the acute stress of a traumatic incident may last months; post-traumatic stress, which can be common especially to some forms of violence (e.g., sexual assault), may last longer. Both of these biological states can affect how people perceive and analyze information, including about their own risk.
Sometimes in journalism, we find ourselves present during, or with access to, the immediate aftermath of trauma. Imagine, for example, that we are writing a feature story about 24 hours on the block with a local police officer. Imagine that we have agreed not to use the names of people the police meet, but we can write about what calls they respond to. Imagine that we follow police responding to a domestic violence call and find a woman who’s been beaten by her husband, insists on his arrest, and repeats: “This is the last time he’ll do this to me.” Imagine that she insists that you write down her name and her quote: “I want you to tell the whole world that I called the cops on that bastard. Tell the world what a bastard he is.”
We don’t know from this encounter whether this woman is experiencing acute traumatic stress, or whether this is an episode taking place in a period of post-traumatic stress. We know it is likely, and from her behavior we can likely infer, that she is experiencing a surge in fight-or-flight chemicals, which convey signals from the brain to the body of life-threatening danger. We also don’t know whether police will charge or book her abuser, and we have no information about her or his relationship to neighbors and extended family. So, we lack crucial information for assessing the level of risk that may be brought by the public disclosure she has invited.
We hear affirmation of consent in the words she says, but from this encounter alone we don’t have meaningful consent – yet.
4. Meaningful consent requests are repeated.
It shows respect to confirm your consent again at the end of your interview. It shows professionalism to highlight for your interviewee the parts of the interview you think you’re most likely to use – especially if those pieces could make people feel fear, shame, or regret when they read them in the paper, or see them on TV later.
Magazine writers have long lead times and often have fact-checking processes that reinforce meaningful consent. Spot news journalists have to do this themselves. Very often, we don’t. We think we don’t have time or, if we’re being really truthful, we’re afraid someone may second-guess their choice to tell us the “best” parts of the story. In these moments, we should double-down on meaningful consent practice: Our professional training needs not be at odds with trauma-informed ethics.
What does that mean in practice? It means, for example, calling the woman you visited with the police a day or two after the arrest of her abuser to re-confirm her decision about going public with her identity and the violence she suffered. It means reminding her that you were present as a journalist and describing what you witnessed. It means talking to her about how safe she feels, on reflection, about disclosing what happened that night, and about how she thinks about managing the risks of disclosure. And it means removing from the record things you may otherwise permissibly write about quotes, facts, and other information that she may wish you had not seen, heard, or written down.
This is not “whitewashing the truth.” This is adapting journalistic practice to findings from neuroscience, biochemistry, and psychology. In those fields, it is well understood that the brain cannot protect the body and simultaneously make abstract decisions about media disclosure during or in the aftermath of a life-endangering incident.
5. Meaningful consent is trauma-informed.
The experience of trauma disorders someone’s world – pulls time apart, undoes chronology, and undermines trust of fellow human beings. Ethically sound reporting on violence requires reporters to understand and acknowledge those ruptures by going out of their way not to reinforce or replicate them. This requires understanding and reflecting on the ways that trauma changes our usual professional practice.
In general, the rules of journalism assume that the journalist is a disempowered party. In most journalism, the journalist’s work is at odds with the interests of the powerful, to whom the journalist is vulnerable through threats, intimidation, and other forms of influence. “On/off the record,” attribution, and recording, among other rules, have been developed over decades to help empower journalists in their work of holding the powerful accountable. Tools, such as freedom of information laws, press conferences, financial disclosures, and even the very expectation that someone will feel pressure to agree to an interview – all help journalists fulfill the public’s right to know. They are a toolkit we use to help us extract information from powerful people who, for reasons of self-interest, probably don’t want to give it to us.
The ethics of this practice is not only in what we pro- duce in our newspapers or on our airwaves. It’s in the process we use to get there
Trauma-informed interviewing is not about extraction. In the aftermath of someone’s trauma, the journalist is not the disempowered party. We are in control of the first, and sometimes the only, representation of the worst moments of someone’s life. And that person usually does not have spokespeople, political allies, or rich friends who can call our editors to denounce our coverage. Reporting on trauma situates us as the powerful party, so we must re-situate our rules by reimagining our practice not as “exposing the truth” but as doing the least harm to the people whose truths we hope to acknowledge, well and sensitively.
Meaningful, or trauma-informed, consent is not about ethics as abstraction. It is about reducing the potential for journalism to cause further harm. Because of how trauma works on the brain and in the body, it can be risky for survivors to talk to journalists. At the same time, talking to good journalists – to journalists who take care around meaningful consent and employ other crucial, trauma-informed tools, like active listening – can bring a sense of comfort to survivors. The ethics of this practice is not only in what we produce in our newspapers or on our airwaves. It’s in the process we use to get there.
2.2.2. Interviewing gender-based violence survivors
Several excellent sets of guidelines on how to conduct interviews with gender-based violence survivors have already been published during the past decade, and particularly since 2018. They are part of the selected resources on gender-based violence reporting cited at the end of this chapter.
The guidelines in this section highlight some of the most important recommendations included in those resources, as well as others gathered by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership during its multiple regional consultations with experienced journalists all over the world. They are also meant to reflect the perspectives and principles outlined in the first chapter, which discusses a survivor-centered approach.
Preparing for an interview
Many of the journalists consulted brought up the constant pressure to identify gender-based violence survivors they can interview, and often without adequate time or preparation. As a result, they all emphasized the importance and beneficial results of research and planning.
BEFORE THE INTERVIEW
Seek advice of local service providers, community leaders, or relevant NGO representatives to identify and approach survivors who are best prepared to speak out.
- How trauma impacts people
- Triggering settings, questions, and language
- Cultural- and community-appropriate terminology1
Evaluate safety and security risks.2
Choose the interpreter carefully. Speak with the interpreter ahead of time and explain the subject, interview style and language preferences.
Accommodate survivors’ preferences and needs to determine time and location of the interview, and who else will be present (including a support person for the survivor, if needed).
Build trust with the interview subject and clarify expectations (especially if the story is expected to improve the survivor’s situation). Avoid any appearance of a quid pro quo.
Especially in cases of sexual abuse/violence, be sensitive to the fact that the survivor may prefer to work with female reporters, photographers, camera crew, interpreters, etc.
If possible, send questions in advance or share them just before the interview formally starts.
- Ask yourself, is this story in the public interest? Am I holding power to account? Am I reporting on the issue as a whole, broadening public knowledge rather than repeating the details of the violent act alone?
Conducting an interview
In its 2017 guide for journalists and editors on gender-based violence reporting, the South African-based organization Sonke Gender Justice formulated the golden rule: "Do not assume that all survivors are the same, be it in their experience or their reactions.”3
DURING THE INTERVIEW
- Have an open and honest conversation about consent with the survivor. Make sure you are not unduly pressuring the survivor to take part in the interview against their will, and make sure they are not under outside, coercive pressure.
- Let the survivor know what angle/type of story you are working on, where it will be published, who will be able to access it, and if it will include videos/ photos/audio or just text. Remember they can revoke consent at any point.
- Try and have a trauma-trained specialist in the room during the interview, if possible, or a trusted person to the survivor. Emphasis should be placed on the importance of the survivor’s safety during the interview.
- Do not rush the interview: Allow time for breaks, silences, and “detours.”
- Start the interview with non-invasive, open questions.
- Ask survivors how they would like to be introduced to readers/viewers.
- Give survivors opportunities to guide the interview by asking questions such as “What would you like people to know about your experience?” or “Is there anything you would like to add?”4
- Avoid questions implying that:
- The survivor may share the blame for the harm done
- You doubt the veracity of her statements or the reliability of her memory
- Avoid interruptions, negative assumptions, or judgmental comments. An interview is not an interrogation!
- Respect boundaries and confidentiality.
- If relevant, include questions about how the survivor’s community is addressing (or should address) the issues at stake (such as access to justice and resources).
- Make sure children are not present when discussing traumatic details of a violent event. When the story is published, make sure children are not identified in ways that could be harmful, especially when it comes to photographs and videos.
AFTER THE INTERVIEW
If at all possible, give survivors the opportunity to read or view the results of your interview.
Be mindful of “jigsaw identification” risks,5 if any details in your story might allow readers/viewers to identify a survivor protected by anonymity.
Be prepared to inform survivors about local resources, such as help lines, direct services agencies, or humanitarian organizations.
When relevant, consider follow up stories, such as survivors seeking justice, a perpetrator’s trial, violence patterns in the community, local efforts to address them, and new laws or policies.
In cases where survivors are still at risk, monitor the possible impact of your story.
2.2.3.Selecting expert sources
Human rights and humanitarian organizations, women’s rights advocacy groups, migrant/refugee rights organizations, service providers, and women/gender studies researchers are obvious sources of expertise at the local and country level. Equally helpful are some of the sources compiled by the Global Media Monitoring Project in their global “Database of Female News Sources”, appended to their 2015 report: http://cdn.agilitycms.com/who-makes-the-news/Imported/ reports_2015/global/gmmp_global_report_en.pdf
This report is available in Arabic, English, French, and Spanish. The 2020 report is available from Whomakesthenews.org, a knowledge, information and resource portal on applied media research.
Medium contributor Jemimah Njuki, writing on “How the media must do better in how it covers gender-based violence,”6 identifies the selection of experts as a top priority: “First, [ journalists] must seek experts to help them contextualize and theorize these issues. These experts exist at nongovernmental organizations, research facilities, universities and more.”
Several media critics, however, have been warning journalists against gender biases that lead to the selection of fewer women as expert sources. The Global Media Monitoring Project 2015 cited above showed that “the percentage of women as persons giving testimony based on direct observation has stood still at 30 % over the past 10 years. An insignificant two percentage point increase in women as experts was achieved during the period, leading to the current 19 % share, almost similar to women’s proportion as persons interviewed as spokespersons (20 %).”7
Amanda Taub and Max Fisher, columnists for The New York Times Interpreter, wrote eloquently about such gender biases in February 2018:8
“We all know we should make an effort to quote more female experts. Women are underrepresented in news coverage – by a ratio of three-to-one, studies consistently show — which both reflects and deepens gender biases in who gets to be considered an authority. Our perch on the international desk, where we write a news column examining global affairs through political and social science, should, in theory, grant us the perfect opportunity to correct this sort of bias.
“But the truth – we are reminded every time we try to quote female experts – is that the gender balance of our articles is only the final step in a process of gender discrimination that begins long before we pick up a phone to begin reporting. We’ve learned to see our role as journalists as important, but also as just the most visible component of a vast social machinery that equates expertise with maleness.”
Adrienne LaFrance, executive editor of The Atlantic, had the insight to analyze her own gender biases based on two years of reporting.9 “In 2013, about 25% of the people I quoted or mentioned were women.” In 2015, that percentage was even down to 22. One of her conclusions was: “Yes, my job is to serve readers by finding the best sources for my stories, but why assume that the best source isn’t a woman? By substantially underrepresenting an entire gender, I’m missing out on all kinds of viewpoints, ideas, and experiences that might otherwise sharpen and enhance my reporting.”
Hence, when it comes to reporting on gender-based violence specifically, identifying and quoting female experts is essential. It furthermore counterbalances the fact that some of the most frequent media sources, such as law enforcement, community leaders and family representatives, tend to be male.
The COVID-19 pandemic also created disinformation challenges for journalists. In October 2020, the International Center for Journalists and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University (New York) published the initial results of their survey on the impact of COVID-19 on journalism worldwide.10 The main findings were related to news sources:
- 46% of journalists who responded identified politicians and elected officials as a top source of disinformation.
- 81% reported encountering disinformation at least weekly
- Respondents picked Facebook as the most prolific disinformation spreader
- Nearly half said sources feared retaliation for speaking to journalists during the pandemic. Those findings may have easily spilled over to reporting on the increased and intensified forms of gender-based violence associated with the pandemic.
2.2.4.Selecting placement, terminology and headlines
News editors should take into account the importance of placement of gender-based violence stories alongside unrelated images and stories. Layout should ensure that the story placement does not implicate unrelated people featured in the news, nor trivialize the gender-based violence-related story.
Editors who write headlines, teasers and other space-limited display type need to resist the temptation to err on the most salacious side of crimes involving violence against women. Headlines, teasers, subheads and others should:
- Center the focus on victims
- Avoid blaming victims and making the perpetrator appear victimized
- Speak to the crime, rather than the gore
tIPs for edItors commIssIonInG storIes on Gender-based vIolence. edItors should:
- Give reporters the time to follow up on stories about gender-based violence
- Learn about trauma-safe interviewing techniques and include these lessons
in staff trainings
- Make sure stories on gender-based violence emphasize solutions
- Remember that gender-based violence is rooted in misogyny and patriarchy
- Avoid commissioning stereotypical or derogatory stories about gender-based violence
- Remember that gender-based violence is a human rights violation
- Ask these questions before publication: is this story in the public interest? Is it holding the powerful to account? Am I reporting thematically on an issue, rather than rehashing violent details? Am I protecting anonymity wishes of vulnerable people?
- Allow survivors anonymity in text, photo, and video, as well as ensuring reporters obtain informed consent before carrying out interviews
Handbook Contributor Jane Gilmore is an Australian freelance journalist and columnist for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. Her book Fixed it: Violence and the representation of women in the media was published by Viking in 2019.
BY JANE GILMORE, MARCH 2020
I have been studying and writing about the dangers of distorted journalism regarding men’s violence against women for more than five years. I’ve also been using social media to spread practical examples of how it happens and how easy it is to correct. It’s a project I call Fixed It,11 and it has a reach of hundreds of thousands of people in Australia. It’s a simple and extraordinarily effective means of helping media audiences understand what they’re reading and notice how often implicit and explicit victim-blaming is embedded in journalism.
In simple terms, the Fixed It project concentrates on demonstrating two consistent flaws in media reporting of violence against women, which is either centering perpetrators as the victim or erasing them from the story and blaming victims or erasing them from the story.
Terms such as “jilted lover,” “jealous husband” and “troubled marriage,” which appear so frequently in media headlines, imply a good man was driven to violence after being wronged by a faithless woman. The context of coercive control or domestic abuse is erased and the responsibility for violence is implicitly shifted to the women’s actions, rather than a violent man’s choices. Headlines, such as “Woman Died in House Attack,” erase both the perpetrator and the violence, while a more precise head, such as “Ex-Husband Breaks Into Woman’s Home To Kill Her,” accurately summarizes the story. Similarly, “Loving Dad Dies in Fire With Children,” would be corrected to “Man With History of Domestic Violence Murders Ex-Wife and Children.”
A common trope in reporting on rape is to confuse the term with sex. Sexual abuse of children is too often referred to in the media as “child sex.” Children cannot have “sex” with adults. They do not have the legal or moral capacity to consent, so it cannot be described accurately as “sex.” It is rape, child abuse or sexual abuse. Using the words sex and rape interchangeably perpetuates the notion that rape is sex gone wrong, rather than a traumatic and criminal act committed by a perpetrator who chose to inflict violence upon another person. Examples include headlines, such as, “Police Charge Young Male With Illicit Attack on Young Mother,” which I corrected to “Man Charged With Attempted Rape of a Woman,” and “Drink Was the Downfall of Sex Abuse for Former Carer,” which would more accurately have been reported as “Man Found Guilty of Raping Disabled Woman.”
Media is the source of most of our information about the crimes violent men commit against women. When such crimes are reported inaccurately and when the reporting perpetuates myths that shift responsibility to the victims, it contributes to encouraging men’s violence against women. Enlisting audience support for change is both educative and powerfully effective.
CWGL asked Gilmore to illustrate how she would recommend “fixing” some of the questionable headlines that followed, in the New York area press, the horrific murder of a woman by an abusive husband that she was in the process of divorcing. The man, who decapitated her, also slit the throat of her daughter before hanging himself.
As an example, Gilmore commented that the New York Post, in its Nov. 7, 2019, article12 “made all the most common mistakes:
- It grouped victim and perpetrator, making his violence invisible
- It sensationalized it with terms like ‘grisly scene’
- It removed the context of domestic violence and made it sound like a stranger broke in to kill them all”
3 people – including 5-year old girl – dead in grisly scene in Harlem apartment
Man brutally murdered woman and 5yo daughter after making violent threats during divorce
Clarifying her choice of terms, Gilmore added: “I chose to put the man, the crime, and the context in, and refer to her as a woman, rather than a wife, humanitarian, or mother,” as a number of other newspapers had, since “we are all more than our jobs and our relationships.”13
The #GBVinMedia Campaign initiated by the Feminism in India organization, also published an article in 201914 on the importance of headlines:
“One of the most glaring problems with how the media reports gender-based violence is its use of sensationalist headlines … While it is important to draw attention to cases of rape and gender-based violence, it is equally important not to turn a grievous crime into a media circus – something that begins to resemble entertainment.
“Sensationalist headlines tend to provoke the reader, highlighting the case’s “unusualness” and creating a spectacle out of the crime. They highlight the most barbaric aspects of the crime, and frame it in a way that is designed to inspire shock, horror and disgust. The perpetrator/s are characterised as monsters – outliers of society.
“…The solution to gender-based violence has to come from a systemic overhaul of society, not by focusing on the barbarism of a single case.”
The solution to gender-based violence has to come from a systemic overhaul of society, not by focusing on the barbarism of a single case.
2.2.5.Selecting photos and graphics
Photo and layout editors should be involved in pre-interview planning, when possible. Photo editors:
- Need to be told of any ground rules agreed to by reporters concerning use of images and identity of survivors
- Need to know context for use of images
- Need to know whether the package is embargoed
The tension in gender-based violence work can result from expectations (whether on the part of journalists, photographers, or editors) about what survivors of violence should share. For too long, graphic photos and descriptions of violence have been the defining ways to cover gender-based violence, often to the detriment of the survivors. All work on gender-based violence, from selecting sources to conducting interviews to choosing photos and graphics, laying out the news and writing headlines should center the survivors’ experience and respect their wishes, fears, and dreams.
In discussing the criteria for selecting photos and graphics, we should reflect on gender equality in photojournalism. As Daniella Zalcman, the founder of Women Photograph,15 noted in a 2019 article,16 “Anecdotally, we know that roughly 15% to 20% of working photojournalists are women.” To achieve equal representation, a world in which we don’t view most news photos through men’s eyes, requires that we hire more women and nonbinary photographers. Selecting images and graphics is often a long-term process involving an editor and a photographer or illustrator. The process requires that all parties consider the safety of survivors of violence to be paramount.
Those selecting photos and graphics should be aware of the laws in the region or country where they are publishing and make choices that will respect each survivor’s right to safety and privacy.
During an interview17 about her work in India for National Geographic Magazine,18 photojournalist Smita Sharma discussed the importance of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, a comprehensive law passed in 2012 to protect children from sexual assault, sexual harassment, and pornography. The law also prohibits media outlets from publishing photos of minors who have survived violence.
In that September 2020 piece, Sharma wanted to capture the trafficked girls’ personality and individuality, to focus on their humanity while hiding their faces. To achieve that, she explained, “I used, technically speaking, a lot of different types of lighting to accentuate certain parts of their personality when photographing them while hiding their identity. I told them I would hide their names and faces. I showed them the photos.” In Sharma’s portrait featured here, a halo of light emanates from behind the girl, identified as “S.” Her face lost in shadow, ensuring that no identifying features are visible. Even though we can’t see the girl’s face, the photo captures details that elicit emotion and tenderness.
Beyond not showing the girls’ faces, Sharma also had to be sure not to reveal any information that could lead to their identification. To respect anonymity in photography means thinking about identifying information, including scars, tattoos, clothing, and location, which could put a survivor of violence at risk of future shaming or violence. “For example,” she said in an interview for this Handbook, “if you are taking a photo of a house, you don’t want people to know the location.”
While working on the Human Rights Watch 2017 project on sexual violence by armed groups in the Central African Republic,19 Sharma photographed female survivors of violence, who thought people might be able to identify them by their clothing. Part of centering the voices of survivors of violence means respecting their concerns. So, Sharma sent her fixer to the market to buy fabric and safety pins. The women wore fabrics from the market in Sharma’s portraits.
“It is not just the act of taking the camera and making the portrait,” she said. “It is much more than that.”
Every survivor of violence will have different fears and, as journalists, it is part of our ethical obligations to respect the trust they have placed in us and find creative solutions to put those fears to rest, and protect them, if possible, from further trauma.
Selecting photos and graphics also involves reviewing captions to make sure they respect the survivor of violence. For example, in her captions, Sharma identified the survivor only by her initial, allowing her to remain anonymous. She includes information about how the girl was trafficked into sex slavery but does not name individuals, nor provide details that could lead to people identifying the girl. Sharma does not describe explicit violence, nor use sensationalist or emotional terms when talking about the survivor.
In an October 2020 interview with the Photo Ethics Podcast,20 Sharma discussed her work with survivors of violence:
“I did not ask them, ‘How were you raped?’ I think that is really wrong and very insensitive,” she said. “It takes time to work on something sensitive and something which is so difficult. And you don’t want to revictimize them by asking them difficult questions. I like to give them time, and I set it up for them to narrate what happened to them if they want to. It is their choice. Because I talk to them just as a human being. I share my own stories with them.”
Gender-based vIolence rePortInG GuIdes for JournalIsts
The following resources have been selected and annotated to provide journalists with easy access to recommended reporting practices, some of them tailored to specific gender-based violence issues or cultural contexts. They are alphabetized under the name of the organization, institution, or agency that produced them.
Noticias que salvan vidas: Manual periodístico para el abordaje de la violencia contra las mujeres
(News That Saves Lives: Journalism Manual for Covering Violence Against Women)
Amnesty International Argentina (2009), 71 pages
Adapted by Silvina Molina
Available in Spanish only
Includes detailed section on interviewing practices and a glossary.
Guideline on Gender Equality and Violence Against Women for Armenian Journalists and Media Workers
Council of Europe (2020), 34 pages
Author: Iliana Balabanova
Reporting on Sexual Violence
Dart Centre Europe (2011), 2 pages
The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma (Columbia University Journalism School, New York) also has an extensive library of online resources, especially for covering sexual assault, including on university campuses:
Reporting on Sexual Violence in Conflict
Dart Centre Europe (2021)
A standard-setting tool for in-depth reporting.
Reporting on Gender-Based Violence: A Guide for Journalists
Equal Press (2020), 64 pages
Equal Press is a Canadian initiative that seeks to address how local news media represents gender-based violence. The guide focuses on marginalized communities (Indigenous, LGBTQ, migrants, and people with disabilities) It also includes sections on language and terminology, and a glossary.
Use the Right Words: Media Reporting on Sexual Violence in Canada
Femifesto (2015), 54 pages
Femifesto is a Toronto-based feminist organization. Its guide features practical checklists on terminology, frameworks and imagery, as well as tips on interviewing survivors.
Gender-Based Violence in Media: A Media Ethics Toolkit on Sensitive Reportage
Feminism in India (2019), 34 pages
Lead researcher: Asmita Ghosh
The toolkit focuses on sexual violence and rape culture. It addresses issues of victim blaming, and perpetrator portrayals.
Resources for Women Journalists
Global Investigative Journalism Network
Reporting Gender-Based Violence: A Handbook for Journalists
Inter Press Service Africa (2009), 76 pages
Editor: Kudzai Makombe
Available in English and French
Covered topics include harmful practices, femicide, sex work and trafficking, gender-based violence in armed conflict, gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS. The handbook features best practices along with sample news articles.
Reporting on Gender-Based Violence: A Guide for Journalists and Editors
Sonke Gender Justice and Health E-News, South Africa (2018, 2nd edition), 56 pages
Author: Marike Keller
The guide includes detailed dos and don’ts on language and interviewing practices, as well as appendices on referrals and codes of ethics/conduct in South African print and online media.
Reporting on Violence Against Women and Girls: A Handbook for Journalists
UNESCO (2019), 152 pages
Author: Anne-Marie Impe
Available in English and French
The first part of the handbook covers 10 thematic areas, including several harmful practices, trafficking, and online harassment of women journalists. The second part makes recommendations about how those topics should be addressed, framed, and covered.
Reporting on Gender-Based Violence in Humanitarian Settings: A Journalist’s Handbook
UNFPA (2020), 35 pages
Available in Arabic and English
According to UNFPA, “the second edition of this handbook, originally launched in 2015, incorporates insights gained from training programmes and consultations organized with journalists in the Arab States region over the past five years.”
Gender-Based Violence, Media and Communications
UNICEF (2018), 7 pages
Excellent annotated bibliography on reporting on gender-based violence against women and girls
WHO Ethical and Safety Recommendations for Interviewing Trafficked Women
World Health Organization and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (2003)
Authors: Cathy Zimmerman and Charlotte Watts
These detailed recommendations about risks assessment, interviewing steps, and issues of confidentiality and consent were prepared for researchers, policymakers and service providers, as well as media professionals.
Conducting Safe, Effective and Ethical Interviews with Survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
WITNESS (2013), 14 pages
Available in Arabic, English, French, Shona, Spanish, Swahili, Xhosa, and Zulu.
WITNESS is an international human rights nonprofit organization that produces the Video for Change how-to series on filming safely, effectively and ethically. This practical guide, prepared for human rights advocates and journalists, is based on the “Do no harm” principle.
Media Guidelines on Violence Against Women
Zero Tolerance (2019), 32 pages
Originally produced in 2011 by the Scottish charity Zero Tolerance, these updated guidelines focus on five forms of gender-based violence: rape and sexual assault, domestic abuse, harmful practices, commercial sexual exploitation, and online abuse.
trauma-Informed best PractIces
The following set of resources features best practices and standards that address trauma-informed interviewing more broadly. Their recommendations, however, are fully applicable to the field of gender-based violence reporting.
Why Should I Tell You? A Guide to Less-Extractive Reporting
Center for Journalism Ethics, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA (2019), 20 pages
Author: Natalie Yahr
Trauma and Journalism: A Guide for Journalists, Editors, and Managers
Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma (2007), 31 pages
Compiled and edited by Mark Brayne
Covering Trauma: A Training Guide
Search for Common Ground and Radio for Peacebuilding (2011), 21 pages
Author: Jina Moore
rePortInG on chIldren
Finally, it is important to be aware of resources that are specifically designed to help media professionals deal with children’s rights issues and underage survivors of gender-based violence.
The Media and Children’s Rights
Produced by MediaWise for UNICEF (2010, 3rd edition), 60 pages
Guidelines for Journalists Reporting on Children: Principles and Guidelines
UNICEF Europe and Central Asia
Ethical Guidelines for Journalists
United Nations Communications Group (UNCG), Afghanistan (2016) – 16 pages
This publication has a special focus on reporting on children.
Endnotes on Chapter II.
- The Canadian Equal Press guide focuses in part on such best practices: Equal Press (2020). Reporting on gender-based violence: A guide for journalists. Vancouver, British Columbia. Retrieved on Nov. 20, 2020, from http://equal- press.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/EP_ Guidebook.pdf
- As a recommended example of best practice, see The WITNESS Video for Change guide (p. 3): WITNESS (2013). Conducting safe, effective and ethical interviews with survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Brooklyn, New York (USA). Retrieved on Nov. 20, 2020, from https:// gbv.witness.org/portfolio_page/conduct- ing-safe-effective-and-ethical-interviews/
- Sonke Gender Justice (2018). Reporting on gender-based violence: A guide for journalists and editors (p. 21).
Cape Town, South Africa. Retrieved on Nov. 20, 2020, from https://genderjustice.org.za/publication/reporting-gender-based-violence/
- For sample questions to ask survivors in an interview see, among others, Femifesto (2015): Use the right words: Media reporting on sexual violence in Canada. Toronto, Ontario. Retrieved on Nov. 20, 2020, from https://www.femifesto. ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/UseTheRight- Words-Single-Dec3.pdf
- Bould, S. (2011, September 20). Editors warned over “jigsaw identification” in sex cases. HoldtheFrontPage (United Kingdom). Retrieved on Nov. 20, 2020 from https://www.holdthefront- page.co.uk/2011/news/press-watchdog-issues- reminder-about-sex-cases/
- Njuki, J. (2018, August 9). The media must do better in how it covers gender-based violence. Medium. Retrieved on Nov. 20, 2020, from https://medium.com/@jemimahnjuki/the-media-must-do-better-in-how-it-covers-gender-based-violence-3bba1a8da08c
- Who Makes the News (2015). Global Media Monitoring Project highlights of findings. Retrieved on Nov. 20, 2020, from http://cdn.agilitycms.com/who-makes-the-news/Imported/reports_2015/highlights/highlights_en.pdf
- Taub, A. & Fisher, M. (2018, February 9). If only quoting women were enough. The New York Times. Retrieved on Nov. 20, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/09/insider/interpreter-gender-bias-women-experts.html
- LaFrance, A. (2016, February 17). I analyzed a year of my reporting for gender bias (again). The Atlantic. Retrieved on Nov. 20, 2020, from https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/02/gender-diversity-journalism/463023/
- International Center for Journalists (2020). Journalism and the pandemic survey: A global snapshot of impacts.
Retrieved on Nov. 20, 2020, from https://www.icfj.org/sites/default/files/2020-10/Journalism%20and%20the%20Pandemic%20Project%20Report%201%202020_FINAL.pdf
- Salas-Rodriguez, I.,Celona, L. & Musumeci, N. (2019, November 7). 3 people – including 5-year-old girl – dead in grisly scene in Harlem apartment. New York Post. Retrieved on Nov. 20,2020, from https://nypost.com/2019/11/07/3-people-including-5-year-old-girl-dead-in-grisly-scene-in-harlem-apartment-police/
- Email from Jane Gilmore to CWGL dated March 25, 2020.
- Ghosh, A. (2019, October 31). Why are sensationalist headlines of GBV cases a problem? Feminism in India (#GBVinMedia). Retrieved on Nov. 20, 2020, from https://feminisminindia.com/2019/10/31/sensationalist-headlines-media/
- Zalcman, D. (2019, September 30). Yes, we can reach gender parity in photojournalism. Nieman Reports. Retrieved on November 20, 2020, from https://niemanreports.org/articles/yes-we-can-reach-gender-parity-in-photojournalism/
- Handbook contributor Alice Driver interviewed photojournalist Smita Sharma in October 2020 and the author of 'More or Less Dead.'
- Bhattacharjee, Y. (2020, September 28). Stolen Lives: The harrowing story of two girls sold into sexual slavery. Photographs by Smita Sharma. National Geographic Magazine. Retrieved on Nov. 20, 2020, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2020/10/stolen-lives-harrowing-story-of-two-girls-sold-into-sexual-slavery-feature/
- Human Rights Watch (2017). “They said we are their slaves”. Photographs by Smita Sharma. Retrived on Nov. 20, 2020, from https://www.hrw.org/video-photos/interactive/2017/10/05/they-said-we-are-their-slaves
- Photo Ethics (2020, October 21). Smita Sharma: On empathy in storytelling. The Photo Ethics Podcast. Retrieved on Nov. 20, 2020, from https://www.photoethics.org/podcast/smita-sharma