What To Know Before Interviewing a Survivor of Domestic Violence

By educating and informing the public, the media can play a vital role in ending domestic violence. Every article, blog post, or documentary that shines a light on domestic violence is extremely important. That said, it can be very difficult for victims and survivors of domestic violence to talk about what they’ve been through, especially when they know that information will be shared with the public. Here is advice on how to approach interviews with victims and survivors of domestic violence:

Clarify how they want to be identified. Make sure you have the interviewee’s permission before using their name in your story. Some may prefer to remain anonymous. Do not assume aspects of identity, such as gender. Allow the interviewee to define their preferred gender. Clarify whether the interviewee wants to be referred to as a “victim” or “survivor,” or if they prefer another qualification.

Set boundaries and stick to them. In a pre-interview conversation, find out what topics your interviewee does not want to discuss. Assure them that you will avoid these subjects during the interview and then stick to your promise. Knowing that they will not have to confront issues that they do not want to discuss will help them feel more comfortable during the interview.

Make sure they’re comfortable. Make sure they know they can take a break or stop at any time. That said, know that an interviewee may not feel comfortable asking for a break even if they do need one. So, if it seems like they’re becoming overly agitated, be sure to ask if they need a break.

Make sure you’re prepared the day of. Your subject will be sharing very painful information with you. It is important that once you begin the interview that there are no disruptions or distractions for them. Make sure your questions are prepared and ready. Make sure any technology you’ll be using is set up and functioning properly prior to the interview beginning. Being highly prepared will also help you ensure you can devote your undivided attention to them for the entirety of the interview.

Clarify in advance if changes or edits will be made to the story. If you do not have total editorial control over your project, make sure the interviewee is aware of that. If possible, offer them approval on edited quotes or revisions of their comments/input.

Choose questions carefully. Educate yourself about existing harmful practices, such as victim-blaming. Do not reinforce damaging stereotypes, such as asking why the person didn’t leave an abusive relationship.

For more comprehensive advice on interviewing survivors of domestic and sexual violence, here are two excellent resources: