A journalist must toe a thin line between revealing compelling, relevant details in a sexual abuse story and protecting the victim’s privacy, as well as the person’s emotional and physical safety.
Lombardi blocks out large chunks of time when she interviews a victim, so she can give the person space to slowly open up. Her advice: Don’t initially ask too many questions; let the person talk freely, then gently steer the conversation toward the subject of the abuse. Offer the person the option of using a pseudonym. Lombardi says that in most cases, those who first prefer to talk on the condition of anonymity ultimately decide to speak on the record after doing the interview.
And be clear about who you are and the purpose of your contact. As an outsider to the ultra-Orthodox community, Dube made sure people knew she was a reporter and had somewhat limited knowledge of the culture. If she didn’t understand a Yiddish or Hebrew word, she asked for clarification. She also found there were principles specific to the community that made speaking openly about sexual abuse more difficult, and learned to approach the subject without over-stepping.
Reporting the details of the charges on sex abuse cases makes a journalist legally vulnerable, Lombardi warns, so verify everything. When there is a documented case of abuse, get access to the documents. Lombardi not only seeks the court files, but tries to get access to other paperwork like personal letters and journal entries. And if there isn’t a paper trail to back up anecdotes, Lombardi suggests talking to the victim’s friends and family members, or other sources who may have known about the abuse.
"Children & Trauma," Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma
"Ethics Codes," Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism
"Code of Ethics," Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ)
"Sexual Violence," Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma