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Media Literacy Week: How the Media Can Better Support Trauma Survivors

*This was originally posted on the ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’ blog

It’s Media Literacy Week in Canada.

The media has many important roles, and timely and sensitive coverage of stories can be very helpful, particularly when it comes to emergency situations. There are many benefits to media coverage: positive changes in public perception and policy; awareness on important issues like abuse and drunk driving, to name a few.

The media can also be a great outlet for trauma survivors, an avenue to tell their stories, and humanize the people involved. This kind of coverage can help create resilience and hope within a community, but when reporting is done at inappropriate times or with inaccurate information, it can do more harm than good.

Media coverage can re-victimize trauma survivors, reinforce misconceptions about trauma and crime, and in some cases trigger PTSD symptoms. In order to protect the survivors in these stories, it’s important for media to take some precaution.

  • Interview survivors at appropriate times: when victims may feel numb, confused or most vulnerable is right after a crime, during a trial, etc.
  • Creating perceptions about the survivor or victim: creating the impression that the victim or survivor contributed in some way to their victimization is damaging to the person involved and everyone close to them as well. Digging up negative information about victims is traumatic, as well as communicating the story in a way that uses misleading language.
  • Avoid taking or publishing inappropriate photos: avoid taking or publishing photos of bodies, body bags or potentially traumatic things at crime scenes like blood, or personal items (baby clothes, etc.).

When myths about crime are perpetuated in the media, it can have traumatic consequences on victims and their surviving family members, as well as impact negatively on a victim’s efforts to reconstruct his or her life following a crime. Even when myths are not explicitly stated, language is important. [Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime] 

Language is particularly important, because victim blaming, whether intentional or not, can be traumatizing to a survivor, but also feeds misconceptions in the public. We all want to be part of the solution, not the problem, so keeping trauma survivors at the helm of communication is important.

The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime has more great resources for media available on their website.

— Written by Amber Craig

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