CPJ Report: Journalists break silence on experiences with sexual violence

Since so few people who have come forward in the past to share their experiences, little has been produced to document journalists’ encounters with sexual violence. That’s now changing.

In light of recent events, the Committee to Protect Journalists released a report June 7

CPJ's "The silencing crime" was published June 7, 2011.

by Lauren Wolfe titled “The silencing crime: Journalists and sexual violence,” as part of an effort to start digging deeper into this issue.

The report was inspired in part by CBS correspondent Lara Logan sharing about her sexual assault by a mob in Egypt earlier this year. (Read our post about the coverage of her experience here.) Her “breaking of the silence” has since encouraged others to come forward and groups like CPJ to realize how little information there is on journalists’ experience with sexual violence on the job.

More than four dozen journalists were interviewed for CPJ’s report. Although women made up the majority of victims, some male journalists also came forward and shared experiences, mostly that took place while in captivity. Experiences ranged from groping and threats of sexual violence to violent rapes.

The report identified three different incidents in which journalists typically experience assault: (1) those that are targeted at specific journalists often in response to their work, (2) those that occur in a mob while the journalists are covering an event and (3) those that take place while journalists are detained or held captive.

Many had not previously shared their stories due to fear of stigma, distrust in authorities to act on their report and fears of professional reprisals including of getting pulled from assignments.

Correspondent Jenny Nordberg, one of those whose story is told in the report, expressed concerns about its possible effect on her work assignments and noted the gender of her editor may have played a part in her decision not to share what happened. Nordberg’s experience is similar to Logan’s: She was sexually assaulted by a crowd of men while covering the return of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan in 2007. Here’s what she said:

“It’s embarrassing, and you feel like an idiot saying anything, especially when you are reporting on much, much greater horrors…But it still stays with you. I did not tell the editors for fear of losing assignments. That was definitely part of it. And I just did not want them to think of me as a girl. Especially when I am trying to be equal to, and better than, the boys. I may have told a female editor though, had I had one.”

In light of the special report, CPJ also produced an addendum to its security guide touching on the issue of sexual aggression and ways to minimize the risk of such experiences.

CPJ notes that this initial research is meant to provide the basis for a long-range survey it will work on about the issue in the coming year.

Read the full report here. What information would you like to see on this issue in the longer survey? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Journalist’s sexual assault brings attention to larger issues of cultural norm of harrassment

On Tuesday, CBS news issued a statement saying “60 Minutes” correspondent Lara Logan had sustained “brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating.” As the news organization’s chief foreign correspondent, Logan was in the midst of the jubilation in Tahrir Square after former President stepped down. Logan was hospitalized upon her immediate return to the United States and is currently recovering in her Washington D.C. home, according to a CBS update.

After the story broke on several broadcast, print and online news organizations, controversy came from several different areas.

NYU Fellow and freelance journalist Nir Rosen tweeted that Logan was just trying to outdo CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper and she fabricated the assault. He posted apologies that added to public outrage, tweeting “ah f*** it, i apologize for being insensitive, its always wrong, thats obvious, but i’m rolling my eyes at all the attention she will get.”*

Rosen resigned from his NYU fellowship soon after. The Poytner Institute also reported other media mishandlings of the story, including a reader’s poll that asked if Logan was to blame for her own assault.

Logan’s assault and resulting news coverage finds us looking at several different aspects of this story: the cultural norm many women in Egypt experienced long before the assault, different media policies on covering a sexual assault and the treatment of female journalists on foreign assignments.

The Associated Press (as printed in the Washington Post) interviewed Egyptian women about their own experiences during the protests. Many women reported a “new Egypt” in which they were seen as equal participants in the political demonstrations, free to smoke, wear jeans and mingle in mixed sex groups. The Gender Report commented before on the critical role women were playing in the developing protests.

However, some women feared this norm would not last. A 2008 survey by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights found that 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women in Cairo said they had been harassed – while 62 percent of men admitted to harassing.

CNN’s American Morning aired an interview with Egyptian columnist Mona Eltahawy, who since the assault has used her Twitter page to discuss women’s rights in the Arab world. Eltahawy said as a woman and as a journalist who has been groped and harassed on several assignments, she wanted to open the discussion up to women in both Egypt and the U.S. who shared their own experiences with harassment and assault.

Ms. Magazine posted similar sentiments, saying,  “The people of Egypt, including women, know their power. I hope their next revolution will be to end gender-based harassment and assault. And I know that many there hope for the same.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists commented that they currently did not have good data on the sexual assault, rape or harassment of women journalists because the cases are rarely reported or the women ask that their stories not be made public. However, the site did review cases from the Congo, Columbia, Mexico, Pakistan in which journalists were attacked, kidnapped, or sexually assaulted. The story quoted journalist Franchou Namegabe Nabintu’s 2009 report to CPJ regarding sexual assault:

“Sexual violence against journalists will remain underreported until the stigma is removed. While that’s certainly true in principle, we also recognize that the decision to discuss sexual violence is a very personal one. We will continue to document incidents of sexual violence as they are brought to us, but always with the consent of the journalist involved.”

The Poynter Institute also reported information regarding the coverage of sexual assault cases. After it become a referenced piece in early articles about Logan’s attack, the Columbia Journalism Review reposted its 2007 article that looked at foreign correspondents and sexual abuse.

As best I can tell, the Associated Press (as published in the Washington Post) was the only news organization to formerly comment on the use of Logan’s name, saying “The Associated Press does not name victims of sexual assault unless the victim agrees to be identified.” Most news organizations follow a similar policy.

Read other commentary on this story:

  • Fox News, criticizing Rosen’s tweets
  • The Daily Beast, on harassment experiences of women in Egypt
  • The Atlantic, on Rosen’s tweets and the role of Twitter in journalism and public opinion

*Actual tweet used full spelling of profanity

This is the Gender Report’s Week in Review, a weekly post that highlights some of the major stories related to gender issues this week. Some of these stories may have already appeared in our News Feed or in the week’s Gender Checks. We’ll at times include a longer analysis of stories as well as bring attention to stories that may have slipped through the cracks of the week’s news cycle.

Update: We follow the same standards as news sites with our comment section, which means no personal attacks, threats or victim blaming will be allowed. If you do any of those, your comments will be deleted.