Media Center

2012 column image: 
2012 column title: 

A Message of Thanks: Covering Crime Victims with Sensitivity

2012 column date: 
Thursday, November 8, 2012
2012 column text: 
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen

In the recent past, Wisconsin has been in the media spotlight due to several high-profile mass tragedies such as the Sikh Temple shootings in Oak Creek, the domestic violence homicides at the Azana Spa in Brookfield, and the arson/homicides in Argyle. In each of these senseless tragedies, the media were there to report on the crimes and their aftermath.

 

The media serve an important and necessary role in our society by providing information to the public, acting as a check on our government and playing a fundamental role in our democracy. When the media timely and sensitively report about crime, it can be especially helpful during emergencies when the public needs to be aware of a particular situation. In addition, when the press covers crimes that are emerging such as Internet crimes against children, human trafficking and heroin abuse, it helps to educate the public on very real and serious dangers.

 

The recent high-profile cases have brought out both the best and the worst in our news media. Although some may prefer to criticize when reporters act irresponsibly, I prefer to acknowledge the media who cover the news in a way that is professional, informative, and sensitive to the rights of crime victims. I would therefore like to say “thank you” to those in the press who acted responsibly, thoughtfully, and respectfully while reporting on these cases and treated victims with dignity, sensitivity, and respect for their privacy. More specifically, I would like to thank those journalists who did not try to hunt down the victims and witnesses of the Azana murders within the sanctuary of their homes before their wounds, physical and emotional, had begun to heal. I would like to thank those members of the media who did not report on the whereabouts of law enforcement vehicles when they were attempting to locate a shooter because it might tip off the very person who was being sought. I would like to thank the journalists who did not demand information of emergency workers, victim service providers, hospital personnel, and law enforcement at times when their duty, first and foremost, was to attend to the crisis at hand.

 

Unfortunately, some representatives of the press -- in their zeal for a story -- confront crime victims with questions while they are still suffering, invade victims' privacy, publish and air photos and video of victims who are injured and in pain, and disclose personal facts that can only re-traumatize victims.

 

The media excel at telling stories, and participation in those stories by crime victims -- when they are ready and willing to cooperate -- can offer valuable perspective. When members of the press take the time to humanize victims and understand their resilience, hope, and pain, the information that they impart to the public is accurate and fair. When the opposite occurs and the media sensationalize a tragedy or fail to take into account the very real human suffering that has occurred, it is a disservice to all of us.

 

The Department of Justice Office of Crime Victim Services in conjunction with the Wisconsin Crime Victims Council has developed a webpage to assist victims of crime and the media in their interactions with each other.  Information at the site includes “A Guide for Journalists Who Report on Crime and Crime Victims” by Justice Solutions. This guide contains information about how to accurately cover stories of victimization while remaining sensitive to victims' and survivors' concerns and needs. The webpage can be found at the following link:

Interacting with the Media: Tips for Victims of Crime