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AUDIO: Tips for interviewing victims of trauma, sexual assault

By Allison Wrabel

Reporting on sexual assault has been a topic of discussion in recent years, lately in regard to assaults on college campuses. Speakers participating in a panel at the 2015 IRE Conference discussed best practices for talking to victims, corroborating stories and striking an emotional balance.

Sheila S. Coronel, dean of academic affairs at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, authored a report on Rolling Stone’s investigation into an alleged rape at the University of Virginia. She gave reporters tips on how to avoid reporting risks.

Sometimes, sources aren’t ready to tell their stories to reporters. Nicole Noren, a producer for ESPN's Enterprise and Investigative Unit, talked about how working with sources requires collaboration. It takes time to gain the trust of the victims/survivors.

Elana Newman, a professor of psychology at the University of Tulsa and Research Director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, encouraged reporters to keep covering sexual assault and the stories of trauma survivors. The most important thing is to get the story right, she said. But it’s also important to be clear when explaining your reporting process to the victims. Newman said that sometimes trauma survivors’ stories can be inconsistent because of the way memories work.  

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