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Media Support

Your U.S. government team will help in any way we can. Your Family Engagement Team can offer some media support and guidance upon request, and connect you to the SPEHA Public Affairs Officer (PAO). The PAO can:

  • Discuss whether U.S. government officials should speak about your loved one publicly;
  • Provide guidance about whether a public campaign is likely to bolster or hinder other diplomatic, military, or investigative efforts to bring your loved one home safely;
  • Consult on what type of public engagement will be helpful in reaching your intended audience, whether you are trying to reach a foreign government, domestic lawmakers, or other influencers;
  • Introduce you to media experts and journalists for help getting your loved one’s name in the public;
  • Liaise with journalists on your behalf if, for example, you request assistance asking for a correction, or asking for privacy;
  • Refer journalists to a statement you have posted or refer journalists to your family spokesperson;
  • Work with U.S. embassies abroad to better understand the media climate in the region where your loved one is being held;
  • Work with U.S. embassies abroad to request a search for local articles about your loved one, including in the local language(s);
  • Work with the appropriate U.S. government Public Affairs team to advise on media outlets or reporters who cover the region where your loved one is being held; or
  • Provide cultural and diplomatic context as you shape a public narrative that includes identifiers such as military service, government connections, political affiliation, religion, or dual citizenship.

Media Considerations

  • Strategy: Past media experiences of hostage and detainee families have shown the importance of planning engagement and using caution when dealing with the media, especially when family members are in a vulnerable or emotional state. Some families have also worked with third party experts, usually on a pro bono basis, to develop a media strategy.
  • Spokesperson: Some families have discovered that it is best to select one person to be a point of contact for all media inquiries, and to speak publicly for the family, so that public messages are well-coordinated and support your intended outcome. Some third-party intermediaries, usually on a pro bono basis, have helped families interact with the media.
  • Ground Rules: You never have to agree to an interview. If you do decide to engage with members of the media, clarify and agree to the ground rules up front. If the reporter agrees to an “off the record” interview, it generally means you will not be quoted, but the information you provide may be used to shape the story. “On background” generally means that the journalist may quote you but will not name the source of the information. Share information with the understanding that not everyone will respect the ground rules.
  • Social Media: Media outlets may be accessing images and other information on the detainee that you and your family have posted publicly. Consider removing material or restricting the privacy settings on public images and statements that demonstrate your loved one’s political affiliation, citizenship(s), religion, military service, U.S. government connection, wealth, or circumstances in the detaining country.
  • Veiled messages: One consideration is whether family members should consider sending “secret signals” to their loved ones in detention, and vice versa, via media engagements. We discourage this approach because, if detected, it could lead to additional interrogations, scrutiny, or other prejudice against your loved one.
  • Fraudulent Contact: Communication methods can be easily manipulated. Your loved one, the detaining party, or a third party with questionable intent, could contact you using an email address, phone number, username, etc. that you know. If this occurs, you may want to keep in mind that the detaining party or other unknown individuals will most likely be monitoring the conversation. If or when you respond, consider limiting your conversations or communications to messages of support and concern for your loved one. Contact your Family Engagement Team for assistance if you receive any unexpected or concerning communication.

Please see the Actions to Consider page for a list of additional actions you may take in working with the media.

After Detention

The impact of a wrongful detention does not end with the return of your loved one. It is important to understand that it may take time for your loved one to adjust once he or she is home, especially after a prolonged detention in a foreign country.

Detainees and their families tend to adapt and sustain themselves during the detention period. It can take time for both the detainee and the family members to re-acclimate to a normal routine back home. Your loved one may need time to rest and to be allowed to tell his or her story in his

or her own way and time. Life will gradually return to normal. You and your loved one both have been through difficult – but ultimately different – experiences during the detention. Allow ample time to reestablish connections, and support one another with patience and an understanding of each side’s experience.

Wrongful detention can be an isolating experience. Those detaining your loved one may have attempted to foster feelings of hopelessness in your loved one. In addition, setbacks and roadblocks in navigating a foreign—and sometimes incomprehensible—legal system may have led your loved one to believe they were abandoned by their family and their government, and that nothing was being done to secure their release. It is possible that your loved one may feel remorse about putting your family through the ordeal. It is also not uncommon for people to second guess their decisions or behavior after the fact. It is important to accept and understand each person’s feelings as normal reactions to an abnormal situation. There will be many emotions that you may be unprepared for but there are resources to help you and your loved ones navigate this new normal. Therapists and family counselors can help with the process.

Issues and problems that existed within the family before the detention may resurface after the return of your loved one. Re-establishing normal relationships can take time after a lengthy absence. It is important to be patient and not rush the process. NGOs focused on your family’s problems can help identify counseling resources and other services for wrongful detainees and their families.

Return to the United States

When your loved one is released, the primary concern is their return to their former life or what they consider home. While each case is unique, we will coordinate with the interagency to ensure a smooth return home, and we will keep family members updated on repatriation options given individual circumstances.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future