The Elizabeth Blackney Protocols for Journalism and Survivorship
For journalists and advocacy professionals interviewing survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict, post-conflict, or non-conflict environments, trust is imperative to obtain accurate information about perpetrators, root causes, and connections to systemic activity. These protocols are flexible, translatable and scalable, and are meant to work as a stand-alone process or in concert with medico-legal teams.
When working with organizations or individuals in this space, location releases must include a full informed consent process that encourages journalists, photographers, and film crews to seek professional, licensed vicarious/secondary trauma care. Protocols for journalists, for allies and advocates, must be rooted in an understanding of the whole person – and full healing.
1. Not every story about a survivor requires a lurid re-telling of violent details.
The pursuit of a story does not include a journalist retraumatizing a survivor, under any circumstance. If you do not get the story through building trust – you do not get the story. Survivors’ experiences and dignity are not a commodity.
2. Uplift and center survivors.
This does not diminish the neutrality or objectivity of reporting – it strengthens it. Treat survivors with the same respect given to perpetrators who enjoy Constitutional protections.
3. Establish boundaries in advance.
What will or will not be shared or discussed? Medical details, psychological diagnosis, economic situation, status of marriage, gender identity, sexual preference and status are all sensitive issues.
4. Create trust by being trustworthy.
Demonstrate commitment by writing and producing pieces about survivorship that embrace the whole being – do not use reductive language. Nobody wants to be reduced to the worst thing that ever happened to them.
5. Do not take credit for survivors’ successes.
When survivors and their families achieve a milestone – prosecution of perpetrators, reparations judgments, or establish a new organization – it is their actions that should be centered. Uplift and center their voices, their work, their triumphs. It will build a long-term relationship.
6. Do not confuse empathy and pity.
Survivors are people, with whole lives. They are not objects or situations.
7. Interview must be conducted in the preferred language of the survivor.
Hire a local, trusted fixer and translators. This extra step, and time, is necessary to build trust.
8. Be realistic in conveying the potential media impact.
Photographs, film, and print interviews may indeed go viral but the likelihood of creating tangible, systemic change must be conveyed honestly. Hope is based in truth, not in false promises.
9. Be prepared for de-identification.
Allow the survivor to choose their pseudonym from a prepared list. This enables them to maintain agency in their story if it is printed, or mentioned in a broadcast. Photography and filming can be of an artifact – a child’s toy, a rosary, a book, anything. Be flexible, discuss with editors in advance, create airtight system with frontline non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and health workers.
10. Talk about success with a survivor.
Find out what compassion and resilience mean to them.
11. Study which programs are working – institutionally or organically.
12. Listen without interruption and do not anticipate conclusions or judgments.
13. Seek guidance from trauma-informed therapists and practitioners who can help navigate complex issues.
These protocols are authored by Elizabeth Blackney, with advice from Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Denis Mukwege, Dr. Christine Amisi, and Justin Cikuru of Panzi Hospital, Bukavu, South Kivu, DRC © 2019 and are distributed by Equality League charitable organization advancing women’s rights by ensuring safe and equal access to sport for women and girls worldwide.