Engaging with individuals who have experienced sexual offences and harm
The emotional cost of sharing
Whenever individuals who have experienced sexual offences and harm are asked to share their stories this can come at a significant emotional cost, not just on the day of the interview, but long after that.
Prepare to include a survivor in your story
When preparing your story you may wish to consider:
- What you are planning to achieve from your story, and the specific purpose of including a survivor
- Legal rights to anonymity (and the requirement for consent in writing to waive that right)
- Support for the survivor during but also after the interview
- The safety of the survivor
- Any criminal proceedings / police investigations
- Which specialist organisations you may wish to engage with
- Any legal considerations
- Whether or not the survivor can remain anonymous or if the individual can be referred to using a pseudonym
- The level of editorial control there will be
- The location of the interview
- Reading the NAPC media guidelines for reporting child abuse (www.napac.org.uk/media)
Ask specialist organisations for help
Depending on the type of content you are writing, specialist organisations may be able to connect you with individuals who are willing to waive their right to anonymity, and to share their story with you. It is important to give these organisations as much time as possible as they are likely to need to do some work of their own, with specific individuals, to ensure that it is safe and appropriate for them to share their story, and to ensure that they are sufficiently supported to do that.
Keep yourself safe and well
Talking with individuals about their experiences of sexual offences and sexual harm can be incredibly emotive and challenging not only at the time, but afterwards. We have provided information about self-care within this guide if you need it.
Explain what you are trying to achieve through your content
To support someone to decide whether or not to share their story publicly, they will need to know what you are aiming to achieve – eg trying to raise awareness of a specific issue, change policy, inspire action in government, encourage others to access help and support, recognise the support offered by organisations etc. Someone may be willing to share their story for one reason, but not for another, and that is their choice.
Give them / signpost them to practical information to help them make an informed choice
Victim Support provide information for victims of crime about talking to the media online at
As well as providing a guide on ‘dealing with the media’ via the Victim support ‘My Support Space’ at
Guidance for victims of sexual offences is also available from ipso at
The Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, which is an American organisation, has also produced ‘Sharing Your Story – How to Think Through Your Options – A guide for survivors of sexual violence’ which provides a range of very practical considerations to support individuals when making a choice.
Respect and ensure their life-long anonymity
IPSO guidance on the reporting of sexual offences says: ‘All victims of sexual offences, including children, are automatically guaranteed anonymity for life from the moment they make an allegation that they are the victim of a sexual offence. A victim is guaranteed anonymity even when someone else accuses the defendant of the offence. In Scotland, the law is different but the practice of respecting anonymity is the same.
A large number of offences are considered sexual offences in law. These include rape, sexual assault, exposure and taking an indecent photograph of a child. Anonymity is also extended to victims/alleged victims of female genital mutilation and, in some circumstances, of ‘human trafficking’ and modern slavery.
Anonymity remains in force for the lifetime of the victim, even where the allegation is withdrawn, the police decide to take no action, or the accused is acquitted. The exceptions to this legal protection are very limited and specific:
- The anonymity only relates to the relevant proceedings. A victim may be identifiable in the context of unrelated proceedings
- In certain circumstances, magistrates or the trial judge may lift the automatic rule of anonymity
- Victims can choose to waive their right to anonymity, without the consent of the court, so long as they are over 16. The consent must be in writing. Victims under 16 cannot waive their right to anonymity’.
Further information available on the ipso website-
Consider the safety of the individual (and their family)
When a story is shared and particularly if a survivor is named, there may be consequences for their safety and that of their family following the publication of the content. This may include from the person who harmed them (or their family / friends) or from other members of the public.
Ensure that the individual is well-connected to a specialist organisation for help and support and that they and their family know what action to take if they feel that they are in danger/at risk of harm.
When reporting about an individual who has experienced a sexual offence and wishes to remain anonymous, please consider the deep connections that can exist in many communities. By disclosing details which may seem small or unimportant, this can lead to the identification of a specific individual and may place them at risk of harm.
Things to do when interviewing
- Ask the individual how they want to be referred to (eg victim of a sexual offence, survivor etc).
- Outline what you are trying to achieve overall and how the interview forms part of that.
- Ask if there is anything that the individual does not want to discuss.
- Explain that the individual does not have to answer a question if they do not want to.
- Avoid interrupting and be patient.
- Do not ask leading questions.
- Try to avoid offering your own personal advice as that is the role of specialist organisations who are supporting the individual.
- Allocate plenty of time. Trying to rush a survivor to share their story can be harmful for them.
- Expect the conversation to be unstructured at
times. Sexual harm is a complicated issue and
cannot always be articulated simply.
- Explain what you are going to do next, and what will happen after the interview.
- Ask the individual if there is anything they wish to add that has not already been covered.
- Thank the individual for sharing their story.
- Explain the level of editorial control you expect for the story (ie will their quotes be moved / cut etc).
- Explain that you will share with them how their quotes will appear (if that is the case, and also explain if that is not the case).
- Advise the individual who else you may be interviewing for the story (eg specialist organisations, the police or another criminal justice agency, a perpetrator of sexual offences etc).
- If the individual has waived their right to anonymity and has chosen to be named, ensure that they understand that following publication of the content they may be contacted by people they do not know on their own social media accounts (eg Twitter and Facebook) – and/or other journalists/media and that there will be what is likely to be a permanent online ‘record’ of their contribution.
- Ensure that the individual has access to support information / guidance.