My-o-my, you ’re not looking so good today!”
von Ulla Fröhling Message, Nr. 4, April, 2006
The sensational story of Natascha Kampusch, the young woman from Austria who escaped her kidnapper in August 2006 after eight long years of captivity, has revealed that journalists have a great responsibility when dealing with people who have suffered a traumatic experience. Here are the journalistic dos and don’ts when encountering such individuals.
The group of journalists and reporters was full of anticipation. I met them at a special course on “Taboos and the media” at the Freie Universität Berlin. The topic of my talk that day was “The sexual abuse of children”. I introduced myself briefly before asking, almost abruptly, “Who among you has been sexually abused during your childhood?” Not a whisper. “Who has been systematically mistreated by their parents?” Again, the question was greeted with the same silenced stupor, as was my next one, “Who has been raped as an adult?” It was only when I asked, “Who has ever had something stolen?” that the shocked audience began to stir, some raising their hands, others chuckling awkwardly.
“Did you really expect to get answers?” a female student asked. Of course not! I had even hoped that no one would react. However, I wanted them to experience first-hand that these truly are taboo topics. It was a bit risky to start off things like that, and perhaps a bit mean, but it led us straight into our topic, i.e., how to act as a journalist when dealing with the victims of violence and other traumatic events.