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Talk Show Guidelines  for Crime Victim Guests

In response to the concern that crime victims are being re-victimized during their appearances on television talk shows, the National Center for Victims of Crime is pleased to announce the development of specific guidelines alerting television talk show staff to the specific needs of crime victims. In addition to the guidelines, a Crime Victim Guests' Bill of Rights has been drafted. The Guidelines and Bill of Rights will be widely disseminated to talk show producers and staff. Each production company will be encouraged to adopt the Guidelines and observe the Bill of Rights so every crime victim who agrees to appear on their show will know that they will be treated with dignity and respect.

Introduction to Victim Psychology

When a person has been victimized by crime, the traumatic event transforms their life. Appropriate support and treatment can help a victim reconstruct a new life. Assistance comes not only from criminal justice professionals, family and friends, but also from the media.

A person who is victimized, loses a sense of control over their life. One of the most important services to provide to a victim is information and the ability to make decisions based on that information.

For this reason, victims and their advocates have fought for the right to be informed and involved in each phase of the criminal justice system.

This sense of control does not just apply to the investigation and prosecution of their case â€" it also applies to retelling of their story to the media. It is critical that the victim's requests be respected and followed to avoid inflicting a second victimization.

While working with a crime victim who has agreed to appear on television, it is critical that members of the media be sensitive to the trauma the person has experienced. Agreeing to tell their story should not be construed as a sign that the trauma of their victimization is no longer a factor to be considered. On the contrary, a person who has been traumatized by crime often does not know when, or if, an event will "trigger" a crisis reaction. Appearing on air, whether television or radio, is a new and potentially intimidating experience for most people. The anxiety produced by this new experience, and the retelling of their story, combined with the trauma of victimization, creates an environment in which a victim needs additional support and control over the situation. The guidelines outlined in this document have been designed to minimize the possibility of a second victimization inflicted by the mishandling of a victim or his/her story by the media.

Recommended Guidelines for Talk Shows and Crime Victim Guests

  1. Television talk shows should use only those victims who have had the benefit of counseling and guidance from a trained victim counselor, professional, or advocate (i.e., rape counselor, domestic violence advocates, legal counsel, etc.). A surprising number of victims end up on shows in the immediate aftermath of their victimization. In some cases victims have appeared within a few days after being victimized. This is primarily due to the fact that production staff learn about victims through news media accounts and then contact the victims directly. Because of the short time frame, many victims will not have had the opportunity to speak with a victim advocate or counselor to begin processing what has happened to them and what they can expect in the aftermath of their victimization. In the aftermath, most victims experience a cataclysm of emotions and are generally not in the best frame of mind to consider the emotional, mental or legal consequences associated with telling their story on television. With the assistance of a trained victim advocate or counselor, victims will be better able to regain some of the control over their lives that is taken by the criminal act and make the most appropriate decision for themselves about telling their story. For these reasons, we feel it is essential that victims receive counseling from victim professionals so they can understand the pros and cons of such appearances, and decide with full knowledge of the potential consequences. Focusing a program on crime and victimization issues should not be done at the expense of the mental and emotional well-being, as well as the physical safety, of crime victims.
  2. Crime victims should not appear in the immediate wake of their victimization -- particularly if they have not had the advantage of counseling by professional victim advocates and service providers. As outlined in the first guideline, victims deserve the right to the assistance of a victim advocate or counselor when deciding whether or not to appear on a television show. It is crucial that victims understand the potential risks involved in telling their story on a television talk show. When victim guests have not had the benefit of guidance and counseling from victim professionals, they may feel intimidated by production staff and/or the studio environment. This inexperience may lead them to consent to decisions that are not in their own best interests simply because they do not know they can object or do not feel comfortable doing so.The first and perhaps most important consideration is the emotional impact of appearing on television so soon after the crime has occurred. A second consideration is the potentially devastating impact that the premature telling of the victim's story may have on the criminal investigation and subsequent prosecution of the case, as well as any potential civil litigation pursued by the victim. Questions asked, comments made, or visual depictions displayed could possibly be used as evidence in a way that could compromise their case. Such an outcome would be the ultimate re-victimization and disservice to the crime victims in their pursuit of justice. Also, in the absence of a conviction of the perpetrator, the potential exists for libel; therefore, crime victims should be encouraged to seek legal advice concerning what constitutes libelous comments before appearing on any talk show.
  3. Child victims should not be guests. Children who are already suffering from the trauma of victimization are often retraumatized by exposure to the media. Children often lack the means to verbalize their emotions and are therefore vulnerable to misinterpretation by both the media and the public. Because of their inexperience with life, and thus being less able to envision and understand the ultimate consequences of their decisions, children are extremely vulnerable to exploitation by the media. Appearing on a television talk show, and thereby revealing their identity to their community and the world, may forever stigmatize them as victims to their peers and the public and have continuing negative effects on their developmental years.While child victims may not suffer negative emotional consequences in all cases, the risks are so high that children generally should not be guests. Although there may be special circumstances that reduce the risks sufficiently to consider an appearance -- for example, the age of the child. There is a significant difference between a seven-year-old and a seventeen-year-old. For talk show production staff to badger parents and/or guardians to be allowed to interview child crime victims in "the interest of the news" or "to help other children and parents" is inexcusable. When a child is victimized, parents are also emotionally traumatized and may not be in the best frame of mind to make decisions concerning their child's welfare. It is, therefore, essential to have an experienced child victim advocate available to assess the situation of the child victim and to counsel the child victim and the victim's parents or guardian in order to avoid negative emotional impact on the child victim or endangerment of their safety.
  4. A professionally trained victim advocate and crisis counselor should be on hand at all times. Utilizing the services of a trained crisis counselor or victim advocate when having crime victims as guests on a program results in guests who are more comfortable and relaxed, more cooperative, and better prepared for the interview and appearance on air. There are many instances where victim guests who were not properly prepared or who were not really ready to go public with their story were unable to talk about it once tape was rolling or the broadcast began. Having a trained crisis counselor or victim advocate present in the green room with the crime victim guests is important not only for the several hours before the taping or live broadcast begins, but also for a period of debriefing after their appearance is over.Having such trained victim counselors present in the studio to monitor the crime victim's appearance is also important for detecting and dealing with any signs of harmful trauma to the crime victim during the taping or broadcast. This is vital because the stress of the situation and publicly reliving his/her story can very likely trigger a posttraumatic stress reaction for the crime victim, especially if the appearance includes visual depictions of the crime scene and/or unpreviewed questions from the audience.Even if victims are not under the care of a victim advocate at home, there is no reason why national talk shows could not recruit crisis counselors and victim advocates from the cities where they tape. This will give victims at least one opportunity to receive guidance in deciding whether or not they want to appear and under what conditions. Having crisis counselors on site will help reduce the damage to victims should some event trigger a crisis response.
  5. Crime victim guests should be treated with dignity and respect at all times. Talk show hosts and production staff should be particularly sensitive and understanding of a victim guest's emotions and feelings which may be heightened by the stress of appearing on a television talk show. Being sensitive to crime victims' emotions and letting them know that their emotional reactions are okay is very different from requesting that they cry and show their emotions on the air. Crime victims' emotional reactions are highly personal experiences which they may not wish to share publicly. To request or beg them to expose this very personal part of themselves on air is not only insulting but can also be re-traumatizing.
  6. Crime victims should always be fully informed about: the format of the show; how their story will be told; who else will appear (in person or otherwise -- i.e, from a remote location); and what subjects will be discussed with each guest. Whenever possible, victims should be provided with copies of the producer's notes on each guest. The purpose here is not only to avoid surprises in terms of guests, material, and subject matter, but to also give victims the information they need to negotiate their involvement and to prepare for the show. Reducing the unknown, will dramatically reduce the victims' fear and trepidation about the show. It will also help them to tell their story more effectively and to defend themselves against insensitive questions or comments from the host or other guests.There have been instances where producers surprised victim guests by either presenting the offender on the show or showing graphic depictions of the crime scene without informing the victim beforehand. The resulting trauma of such surprises have sent crime victims into posttraumatic stress reactions so severe that they were unable to continue, and the show had to be canceled.
  7. If an offender, any offender, is to be physically present in the studio or elsewhere in the facility, the victim should be given notice of the specific facts and asked what arrangements can be made in the studio to make the victim feel comfortable and safe (e.g., a physical barrier like a table or floral arrangement between the offender and the victim, interviewing the offender via satellite or from a remote location on the premises, etc.). Every precaution should be taken to prevent the offender and the victim from "crossing paths" before, during and after the show. One of the most often stated needs of a crime victim is access to information relating to his/her victimization, case or offender. In the situation of crime victimization, the old axiom, knowledge is power holds true. By knowing if an offender, any offender, is going to appear on the show with the victim, the victim will be better able to prepare for that portion of the show. It will also be helpful to the victim to know as much about what the offender will be discussing during his/her interview. Also, the contact between a victim and the offender should be minimized. As the criminal justice system has learned, by having separate waiting areas and avoiding contact with the offender, the potential for the offender to intimidate the victim is greatly reduced.
  8. Offer the victim the opportunity to get comfortable with the set by allowing them to arrive early or even the day before the actual taping. Most crime victims have had little or no involvement with the media, so the experience of appearing on a talk show or other program can be frightening and very stressful. That stress can be reduced when they are prepared in advance by familiarizing themselves with the environment in which the interview or appearance will take place. This involves touring the studio with explanations provided of where the interviewer/host will be, where the audience will be situated, where camerapersons will be located, which monitor they should look at if necessary, etc. The more familiar and comfortable they are with the environment, the better the program will be because they are more relaxed and better prepared to relay their story and interact with the host.
  9. Victims should always have the right to view pictures, video/audio tape, graphic and/or any other depictions that will air as part of the show. Again, victims should not be surprised with graphic representations they have not seen and approved in advance. Victim guests should always have the right to veto the airing of any visual depictions they find offensive or feel are inappropriate. Crime victims should have the right to say no to production staff at any time without feeling guilty.
  10. Victims should be informed in advance of the option to protect their anonymity by whatever means are necessary (e.g., silhouette screens, disguises, electronic voice alteration, pixel and fog screening, etc.) Anonymity is important to victims, not only to protect them from embarrassment and stigmatization from the general public, but also in some cases from harassment and threats to their safety.
  11. When the victim desires, no information should be presented which would disclose the location of their home, place of work, or whereabouts. For stalking victims and those who have gone into hiding to escape their abusers, the need for absolute confidentiality about their place of residence and employment is critical for their safety. Care should be given so that no clues as to the victims' current location are given.
  12. Victims should have the right to request that their show not air in certain markets. Again, this is for reasons of their safety.
  13. Victims should have the opportunity to request that disclosures which compromise their anonymity or safety be edited.
  14. Victims should also be informed of when the original show will air and when the show will be re-broadcast. This will give victims the opportunity to make any arrangements they feel are necessary in advance of the broadcast or re-broadcasts. Especially in the instance of a possible re-broadcast, victim guests should be informed and their permission obtained before the re-broadcast. Their situation may have changed (e.g., the offender may now be out of prison, the criminal acts may have started again or accelerated) and any re-broadcast could potentially put them in physical danger, or the original airing of the show may have caused such a negative reaction for them that any re-broadcast could be harmful to them emotionally.
  15. Victims in the viewing audience may experience a crisis reaction while watching a show about crime victimization experience. A television program that features crime victims detailing their stories and experiences, especially if graphic depictions of the crime scene are involved, will often trigger crisis reactions for viewers both in the studio and viewing audience, who have also been crime victims at some point in their life. Therefore, it is strongly advised that talk show producers provide a disclaimer at the beginning of their show cautioning viewers of the content. Also producers should provide a public service announcement at the end of the show advising viewers that there is help available for them and provide the name of an appropriate, qualified victim information and referral phone line or crisis line which can provide more information and referrals to local victim assistance programs in the viewers' area.

Bill of Rights for Crime Victims Guests on Talk Shows

Crime Victims have the right:

  1. To be treated with dignity and respect at all times by the talk show host, production staff and crew, or any other employees who have contact with them.
  2. To be informed of the format and subject of the show including how their story will be told and what subjects or issues they will be asked about on air.
  3. To be informed of all other guests who will appear on the show, along with each guest's full background relative to the issue.
  4. To object to the format or other production decisions concerning the subject matter and other guests of the show.
  5. To establish conditions and prerequisites for their appearance and to have the show's host and production staff comply with any such prerequisites.
  6. To have the services of a professional victim advocate/crisis counselor on site before, during and after taping.
  7. To have victim advocates, counselors, or other necessary support persons accompany them to the show at the show's expense.
  8. To preview, prior to their use, any pictures, video or audiotapes, graphics and/or any other visual depictions which will be aired and to always be allowed to veto the airing of any they find offensive.
  9. To have their personal items such as photographs, letters and videotapes returned promptly and in the same condition as which they were received by the talk show's representative.
  10. To know in advance what questions will be asked and to refuse to answer any questions with which they are uncomfortable or that they feel are inappropriate.
  11. To request measures that will ensure their safety before, during and after production of the show.
  12. To request measures that will guarantee their anonymity (e.g., silhouette screens, disguises, electronic voice alteration, pixel and fog screening, etc.).
  13. To request measures that will guarantee the confidentiality of any identifying information which would disclose their whereabouts or address.
  14. To have edited out any information that discloses their identity or whereabouts contrary to their wishes.
  15. To not have the show air in specific markets and locations which may jeopardize their personal safety.
  16. To be informed of the original air date and any subsequent airings of the show as soon as practicable.
  17. To be informed at the earliest opportunity of any changes which affect their rights and interests.
  18. To choose to withdraw their consent to participate in the show at anytime they feel it is in their best interests, regardless of any previous commitments or expenditures on behalf of the show.