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
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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Victims should have the right to request that their show not air
in certain markets. Again, this is for reasons of their safety.
- Victims should have the opportunity to request that disclosures
which compromise their anonymity or safety be edited.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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
- To be informed of all other guests who will appear on the show, along with
each guest's full background relative to the issue.
- To object to the format or other production decisions concerning the
subject matter and other guests of the show.
- To establish conditions and prerequisites for their appearance and to have
the show's host and production staff comply with any such prerequisites.
- To have the services of a professional victim advocate/crisis counselor on
site before, during and after taping.
- To have victim advocates, counselors, or other necessary support persons
accompany them to the show at the show's expense.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- To request measures that will ensure their safety before, during and after
production of the show.
- To request measures that will guarantee their anonymity (e.g., silhouette
screens, disguises, electronic voice alteration, pixel and fog screening,
- To request measures that will guarantee the confidentiality of any
identifying information which would disclose their whereabouts or address.
- To have edited out any information that discloses their identity or
whereabouts contrary to their wishes.
- To not have the show air in specific markets and locations which may
jeopardize their personal safety.
- To be informed of the original air date and any subsequent airings of the
show as soon as practicable.
- To be informed at the earliest opportunity of any changes which affect
their rights and interests.
- 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.