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.