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Can You Connect Me with a Survivor?

 

Here at the Canadian Women's Foundation, one of the requests we get most from media is "can you connect me with a survivor?"

 

Those reporting on violence against women and girls often want to hear first-hand what it was like to experience domestic violence, sex trafficking, or sexual assault.

 

In the best-case scenario, it's because the reporter wants to personalize and contextualize the issue so that they, and their readers, come away with a better understanding and can work toward ending violence.

 

In the worst-case scenario, it's to add a sensational twist to an already horrific story, get click-throughs to the publication’s website, and make a profit.

 

When our staff hear "Can you connect me with a survivor?" our answer is often “Maybe, but why?”

 

When members of the media, or anyone for that matter, ask to speak to survivors, we want them to consider the potential impact of what they're asking. We want them to consider the ethical implications. We want them to ask themselves "Is this really necessary"? If the answer is yes, we want them to proceed with respect, empathy, and a trauma-informed approach. And in the final report, they need to use the right words.

 

Readers can also ask themselves the same questions – is this really necessary? Is it ethical reporting? Does the journalist #UseTheRightWords? If not, say something!

 

When a journalist is producing a story on issues of violence, they are often on a tight deadline and need to get the piece done as soon as possible. They have the ability to walk in, ask hard questions, open old wounds, and walk out. At times, the impact of reliving traumatic experiences can be devastating to the survivor and their support network. They don't get to walk away.

 

That's not to say that survivors are fragile people who are unable to speak to their experiences – far from it. Many survivors bravely share their stories privately and publicly. This decision can be cathartic and help change policies, programs, and lives; however, it can also come at the cost of reliving trauma and of opening oneself up to public criticism and social stigma.

 

It’s a decision that survivors need to make on their own terms and fully informed of their rights around media interviews. It’s also a decision journalists must not take for granted or exploit for click-bait, part of their ethical duty as reporters.

 

Many courageous survivors have shared their stories with the Foundation, and we have a process that ensures that they are informed, safe, and empowered along the way. For example, we work with our grantee organizations to identify survivors who are at a point in their journey where they feel ready to share their story. We let survivors know in advance how their stories will be shared, what kind of questions will be asked, and give options in terms of how they will be identified. The aim is to allow the survivor to share their story in a way that is positive for them and helps to demonstrate their strength.

 

So can we connect media with survivors? Yes, occasionally. But do you really need to ask someone who was beaten if it hurt?

 


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