Remember this past February, when CBS news correspondent Lara Logan was sexually assaulted by a mob while filming an episode of “60 Minutes” in Tahrir Square? The assault instantly received widespread media coverage, including Lara’s own segment of “60 Minutes” on which she discussed her experience.
But Lara Logan’s case was the exception
A recent report released by The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) examines why Logan’s case is so exceptional: not because female journalists don’t regularly experience sexual abuse, but because they are so unlikely to report it. Since Lara Logan’s attack, the CPJ has interviewed an array of both local and international journalists, finding more than four dozen who had experienced some form of sexual assault and yet, in the vast majority of cases, had never reported it.
The underreporting of sexual assault applies to all women, regardless of profession. But is a journalist perhaps even less likely to publicize it?
The interviews conducted by the CPJ came, for many, as a welcome opportunity to share their stories without endangering their careers. When asked why she thought so many women chose to open up in the interviews, Lauren Wolfe, senior editor of the CPJ, said, “It’s like this critical mass of female journalists saying they’re not going to take it anymore — the groping, the intimidation, the threats.”
Women in journalism: a culture of silence?
But for the four dozen female journalists who reported their assaults to the CPJ, there are thousands more who are still keeping their stories of sexual abuse to themselves.
“They didn’t want to encourage a situation in which male editors assigning stories might be reluctant to send a woman out in field,” Rodney Pinder, director of the International News Safety Institute, said. “They felt that it might affect them negatively if their employers or their assignment editors felt that they had to be given special care, attention, protection.”
And this makes sense. To get the most in-depth story, a newspaper would want to assign the reporter most likely to brave the most dangerous regions and submit to the most risky situations.
Female correspondents are naturally targets
A female reporter’s role as both a journalist and woman makes her doubly vulnerable. Take the case of Lynsey Addario, a New York Times photo journalist who was raped in Libya in March: not only was she a woman in a culture in which women have restricted civil liberties, but she was also a person prying into that culture — asking uncomfortable and difficult questions.
So when we combine a female journalists’ susceptibility to sexual assault with the competitive journalistic atmosphere dissuading her from reporting it, it seems like news corporations need to start taking some additional precautionary measures to protect their female reporters.
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