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Steps for conducting interviews

Last edited: December 30, 2011

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General steps for conducting interviews with survivors include:

Planning and preparation

  • Choose an appropriate location: When possible, the survivor should decide whether she is comfortable speaking in the police facility, or would prefer being another location (such as her home-if safe, a hospital, crisis centre or other support facility). For interviews in police facilities, a private space away from the perpetrator should be used. An interrogation room should not be used, since the woman or girl is the victim.

  • Determine if others will be present: A trained officer (preferably a woman, although this may vary depending on the context) should conduct the interview. With agreement from the survivor, the interviewing officer may be accompanied by an additional officer and support person for the woman or girl.

  • Plan the questions to be asked: Personnel should use an existing protocol or create a questioning guide to help sensitively identify the facts related to the incident (answering who, what, when, where why, and how).

Engage and Explain

  • Introduction: The officer(s) should introduce themselves by name to the survivor.

  • Interview rules: The process for the interview should be explained and informed consent should be received before the interview begins to ensure the woman or girl is comfortable with discussing the incident and understands what will follow.


  • Free narrative: The officer should start the interview by allowing the survivor to describe the incident and any other information she feels relevant, without being interrupted. Women and girls should be encouraged to explain their perspective on the events and given the time needed to fully share their experience, while the interviewer carefully document the information as appropriate.

  • Open questions: The officer can follow-up on the narrative by asking additional questions that allow the survivor to describe greater detail on a specific part of the incident or clarify information from the narrative (such as “tell me about”; “what happened next?”; “tell me what else you remember”; “and then what happened?”).

  • Specific questions: Closed-ended questions that can be answered by ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ may be used last to help complete any missing information from the narrative.


  • Referrals/Safety plan: Survivors should be made aware of the other support services available to them (medical/ psychological care; shelter; legal assistance, etc.) and where possible, police should facilitate access to those services (e.g. providing transportation to support centres, facilitating contact with advocates, etc). In cases of domestic violence, trafficking, forced marriage and honour-related crimes, it is critical that police conduct safety planning with women and girls at risk of future abuse before the interview concludes.

  • Conclusion: The officer should allow the survivor another opportunity to share any additional information on the incident and ask any questions on the process or next steps. She should be informed of the actions to be taken by police (that are realistic and do not set expectations for outcomes that cannot be guaranteed) and thanked for her assistance with the process.


  • Individual or team reflection on the interview and outcomes should be conducted to identify follow-up actions, highlight lessons learned and inform future revisions to improve the process.

(Adapted from UNODC. 2010. Handbook on Effective police responses to violence against women; and UNODC, 2009. Anti-human trafficking manual for criminal justice practitioners: Module 8: Interviewing victims of trafficking in persons who are potential witnesses)

Illustrative Example: Uganda Police Protocols and Procedures for dealing with victims and suspects  

Key Principles for dealing with domestic violence cases:

  • Talk to the suspect and the survivor separately.

  • Inform the survivor about confidentiality and disclosure.

  • Do not tell the suspect the source of information.

  • Listen calmly to the survivor as she tells her story.

  • Avoid making judgmental comments or conclusions.

  • Give her a chance to express her opinion.

  • Avoid telling your own story of violence.

  • Help her think through and consider the safety options for herself and her children.

  • Help her assess her risk.

  • Give her information about the available resources for abused women.

  • Refer her for further support.

Working with women experiencing violence:

Key Principles

  • Let the survivor know that she is not to blame for the violence.

  • Tell her that there is no acceptable justification for violence.

  • Remember that the survivor has tried other options and has finally come to police.

  • Assure her of your support.

  • Maintain the rules of confidentiality and disclosure which you agreed on with her.

  • Do not make promises to her if you are not able to follow through.

  • Interview the survivor in private; do not allow others to comment on the case.

Interview Guide

Welcome the client. Tell her your name; explain that you will ask her a few questions about her case:

  • What brought you here today?

  • Has violence ever happened before in your relationship?

  • Has the suspect ever threatened to kill or hurt you?

  • Do you feel you are in immediate danger? [If yes, refer to risk assessment guide]

  • Was anyone present when it happened (e.g. your children, relative or neighbour)?

  • Did you tell anyone when this happened (e.g. relatives, in-laws, Local Coucils)?

  • How would you like the police to help you?

  • Do you feel safe returning home?

  • There is a chance that your partner could be violent again, how could you plan for your safety in case this happens?

  • Is there any other information you would like the police to know about the danger you may be in?

  • Describe the options to the client e.g. written warning to the suspect, arresting the suspect, proceeding to court, etc). Explain requirements and implications of each.

  • Would you like to see a counsellor or health care provider? (Give client the referral list, help her understand her options).

  • Let the client read the statement you wrote, if she cannot read, read it back to her and ask her if it correctly represents her case and intentions.

  • Explain the next steps that will be taken, ask if she is comfortable with this.

Working with suspects of domestic violence:

Key Principles

  • Calm down the suspect in case he is very angry, anxious or violent.

  • Use non-judgmental language when interviewing the suspect.

  • Get suspect’s side of the story.

  • Avoid the question ‘why did you use violence?’ because it justifies the violent behaviour.

  • Make sure the suspect is under your guidance and control.

  • Avoid telling the suspect what you discussed with his wife / partner.

  • Avoid revealing the person who called police in case the police carried out an arrest.

  • Do not allow the suspect to dictate over you.

  • Tell the suspect that his arrest is a police decision not the victim’s decision.

  • Tell the suspect the kind of offense committed.

  • Avoid being dragged into issues that are not related to the offense reported.

Interview guide

  • Welcome remarks

  • Can you tell me what happened between you and your partner?

  • Has it ever happened before?

  • Are you aware of the crime that you committed? (Explain to suspect what he is being charged with)

  • Are you aware of the consequences of this crime? (Explain to the suspect what will happen next)

  • If the case will not be prosecuted, explain to the suspect what other action will be taken (e.g. signed written statement, reporting upwards).

  • Tell the suspect that violence against women will not be tolerated

  • Would you like to talk to a counsellor or other leader? If so, give referral list.

Excerpt: Turyasingura, H. (2007), ‘Responding to Domestic Violence, A Handbook for Ugandan Police Force’, Kampala: Uganda Police and CEDOVIP.


Key tools

Handbook on Effective police responses to violence against women, Criminal Justice Handbook Series (UNODC, 2010). This Handbook is designed to assist and guide policy officers in the prevention of, and response to, violence against women by: familiarizing them with relevant international laws, norms and standards relating to violence against women; and informing them about some promising approaches to effective police response to acts of violence. It outlines good strategies, procedures and practices that have helped police forces to enhance the safety and security of women in their communities. Available in English.

Victim Translation Assistance Tool - Life support messages for victims of human trafficking (UNODC, 2010). This tool is a unique resource for law enforcement officials to provide basic assistance to victims of human trafficking. Developed in collaboration with survivors of trafficking and survivor support experts, the tool uses audio messages with key encounter messages to facilitate the identification of and communication with a trafficked person and the launch of a criminal investigation. The tool contains 35 recorded basic questions and messages, which are translated into 40 languages, tailored for the gender of survivors and include special questions for children. Available in English.

Responding to Domestic Violence: A Handbook for Ugandan Police Force (Turyasingura, H., 2007). This Handbook provides background information on the problem of domestic violence as an abuse of human rights and provides guidelines on how to interview the victims, children who are affected by domestic violence as both victims and witnesses, and the perpetuators of domestic violence. Available in English. 

Model Strategies and Practical Measures on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the Field of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, Draft update to annex of General Assembly Resolution in 1997 (resolution 52/86) (UNODC, 2009). The 2009 Model Strategies and Practical Measures updates the 1997 version and takes into account new approaches and new prevention tools and good practices in combating violence against women. Available in English. 

Ending Domestic Violence: a Manual for PWDVA Protection Officers (UNIFEM/ Lawyers Collective Women’s Rights Initiative/ Indian Ministry of Women and Child Development, National Commission for Women, 2009). This Manual aims to provide comprehensive, step-by-step guidance to Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act Protection Officers on how to fulfill their duties under the Act, from receiving a survivor through the litigation stage, including their court-directed duties. Written for non-legal readers and based on the Lawyer’s Collective’s knowledge and practical experience with the Act, the Manual is an essential resource for training officers to implement the law effectively and in a manner consistent with their legal obligations and the law’s objective. The Manual can also be used by police, service providers, medical facilities, shelters and other civil society groups working on domestic violence, as well as by women seeking recourse to the law. Available in English.

Enhancing Law Enforcement Response to Victims: Resource Toolkit (International Police Chiefs Association, 2008). This toolkit is one of 3 resources in its Strategy Package for state and non-state law enforcement actors and policy-makers. The toolkit includes revised mission statements, schedules and process descriptions, stakeholder interview questions, sample action plans, partnership agreements, victim response policies and procedures, engaging staff and employing performance appraisals, informational material (brochures, press releases, websites) and links to relevant victim-related resources. Available in English.

WHO Ethical and safety recommendations for researching, documenting and monitoring sexual violence in emergencies (WHO, 2007). The recommendations are designed to inform those involved in planning, conducting, funding, reviewing protocols for, approving or supporting information collection on sexual violence in humanitarian settings. This includes (but is not limited to) researchers, programme planners, donors, ethics review committees, managers and staff of humanitarian and human rights organizations, all staff involved in sexual violence inquiries (including translators and interpreters, data entry staff, drivers and others). Available in English.  

Sexual Assault Guidelines, Sexual Assault Incident Reports Investigative Strategies (International Association of Chiefs of Police, 2005). The guidelines and interview strategies are based upon best practices in the United States regarding sexual assault incident investigations and were developed in collaboration with local, state, and federal law enforcement, prosecutors, advocates, medical, and forensic professionals. The guidelines aim to support officers and departments in preparing sexual assault cases for successful prosecution through detailed case documentation and thorough investigations, covering: standardized case coding and clearance; report writing; victim interview; suspect interrogation; investigation; and working with vulnerable populations. Available in English.

WHO Ethical and safety recommendations for interviewing trafficked women (Cathy Zimmerman and Charlotte Watts for the World Health Organization, 2003). This report is a resource for researchers, media, and service providers with limited experience working with trafficked women. The recommendations should be used together with existing standards and include ten basic standards for interviewing women who are in or have left a trafficking situation with an explanation provided for each standard and suggestions for their implementation. Available in Armenian, Bosnian, Croatian, English, Japanese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish and Serbian.

Human Trafficking Investigation Manual (UNDP and DFID). This manual was developed as part of the Police Reform Programme in Bangladesh to support police responses to trafficking in persons. Available in English and Bengali.

Putting Women First: Ethical and Safety Recommendations for Research on Domestic Violence against Women (WHO, 2001). These guidelines are for researchers and practitioners who may collect information from survivors of domestic violence. The recommendations can be used to guide interviews conducted by professionals, such as police. Available in English, French and Spanish.