Interviews Requiring Special Approaches: Interviewing in unfamiliar or hostile locations and interviewing adversarial and/or vulnerable sources

Gain skills to approach and interview safely sources in unknown or hostile places or with subjects that are vulnerable or may be or become adversarial over the course of your investigation.


Special approaches: Interviews in unfamiliar/foreign/hostile environment locations and with adversarial and vulnerable sources (1 hour 30')

  1. Interviewing vulnerable or adversarial sources (40').

  2. Particularities to dealing with survivors of trauma (10'):

  3. Particularities to dealing with adversarial sources (10'):

  4. Interviews in foreign countries and other unfamiliar places (20').

  5. Wrap-up




4-14 so people can team up in groups of 2 at least. But for smaller groups (2-5) they can work all together.



  • Learning how to plan a safe immersion and meeting with sources in foreign/unfamiliar places

  • Risk assessment

  • Gender


  • How to move around.

  • Self-care and self-awareness


Threat matrix and risk assessment table adapted for this context

Detailed Plan

1. Interviewing vulnerable or adversarial sources (40 minutes).

The trainer/s ask the participants to brainstorm. (5 minutes)

- What is a vulnerable source?

List them:


  • Minors

  • Survivors of trauma

  • Survivors of sexual violence

  • Victims of trafficking

  • And an adversarial source?

    • Perpetrators

    • Victims that have taken part in illegal activities (victims of trafficking)

    • Hostile sources

    • Law enforcement: these may require to be addressed separately.

Based on their answers and following the dynamics of the previous slot about interviews the trainer invite the teams to plan an interview with a vulnerable/adversarial source of their choice (or the role play game cards of the KIT) related to the investigations we have been working around during the morning session. One per team, promoting variety.

  • Elaborate a questionnaire and plan your interview. This exercise will serve a double purpose: refreshing the knowledge acquired and checking what we have learned previously and understanding the particularities of vulnerable and adversarial sources.

Suggest these questions as a starting point for their work. (15 minutes)

  • How will you reach out to them?

  • Where will you meet them

  • How would you keep record of the answers, data or information collected

Then share collectively the teams' findings related to vulnerable and adversarial sources (20 minutes 10+10). The trainer will provide tips, make recommendations, and bring mistakes to the group's attention. Some things to remember might be:

2. Particularities when dealing with survivors of trauma (10 minutes):

  • The importance of connecting with the vulnerable sources through organizations. (risk assessment)

  • If they are survivors of sexual assault they might feel more comfortable if they are in a place they know or they choose.

  • Let them be accompanied if they require it

  • Sexual survivors generally prefer to talk to women, if you identify yourself as a man you may want to ask a colleague to help.

  • Avoiding triggers:

    • Focus on the facts of their experiences, don't reignite trauma.

    • Be patient: They might not follow a straight line in their storytelling:

      • Ask frequent follow up questions (see Module 1 for building a questionnaire).

      • Avoid questions that put the blame on the victim or imply wrongdoing (good example for victims of trafficking, minors).

      • Bringing crayons or toys may help minors to get more confident or talk casually while playing.

    • Empathy: let them feel you hear them. Do more listening than talking (this can't be emphasized enough).

    • Don't make comparisons, undermine or belittle their experience.

    • Being vulnerable doesn't imply they are trustworthy. The information must be fact checked and you should be aware of their bias, if they might have been coerced... etc. This may change over time. Do constant check ups on their reliability if working with them over time.

  • Self-care, self-awareness: Your wellbeing is as important as

The trainer/s should mention other vulnerable sources such as coerced victims, minors, victims of trafficking and provide tips and resources (link to those) that apply to them.

3. Particularities when dealing with adversarial sources (10 minutes):

It will be interesting that the trainer/s points out that certain sources may be collaborative and turn adversarial over the course of your investigation, others the other way round.

  • Be in the right mindset. Don't let the source get you. (self-care, self-awareness)

  • Don't be afraid of changing the questions if needed.

  • Start with open ended questions and built upon.

  • If time is limited go to the point and ask the difficult questions earlier. Ask tough questions without hesitation and be ready to back them up or repeat them if they are not answered. Also be ready to deal with the potential backlash or a source clamping up.

  • Always be respectful: . (self-care, self-awareness)

  • Observe body language and read reactions: People who gets angry provides information too.

  • Keep yourself safe. These source may try to interfere in your investigation or with other sources.

4. Interviews in foreign countries and other unfamiliar places (20 minutes).

The trainer introduce the topic: if you are traveling you need to make a risk assessment of the place or country where you are traveling.

Brainstorming: What should you consider?

  • Flights,

  • Accommodation

  • Moving in and around

  • Visa requirements

  • Luggage and outfits

  • Equipment (customs)

  • Permissions

  • Cultural and religious considerations

  • Gender considerations that may affect your work

  • If there is turmoil: protests...

  • Reaching out to your interviewees through local organizations might be helpful and help to break the ice.

  • Language: this may require collaborating with local facilitators, translators, guides or fixers. They should be trusted people. (Background checks- this may include background preliminary interviews).

  • Consider how safe is sharing personal information or information about your research when dealing with people.

  • Sometimes is useful to get a map.


What do you do when the interview/s are over? Brainstorming.

Some things that should be considered and the trainer will mention if they are not mentioned?

  • Fact-checking

  • Research cycle: Asses needs, think your investigation over.

  • Give the right of reply

  • Check you have permissions and how the source will be named (if it is named) when you reveal or publish your investigation.

  • Stay in touch. Present interviewees may be a starting point to building your own agenda of sources and develop further investigations..

  • RISK ASSESMENT. Communications, storage, publication, sharing with others, collaborating...

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