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Monday, February 21, 2011

Sexual abuse against reporters is largely unreported

The horrific Lara Logan story gets even worse:

More details have emerged of Lara Logan's terrifying ordeal at the hands of a frenzied mob.
The 39-year-old foreign correspondent for CBS News show 60 Minutes was separated from her film crew in Cairo on February 11 and surrounded by as many as 200 men in Tahrir Square at the height of the anti-Mubarak demonstrations.

According to one source, reported in The Sunday Times newspaper, sensitive parts of her body were covered in red marks that were originally thought to have been bite marks.

After further examination they were revealed to be from aggressive pinching.
It has also been revealed that she was stripped, punched and slapped by the crowd, which was labelling her a spy and chanting 'Israeli' and 'Jew' as they beat her.

And medical sources have revealed that marks on her body were consistent with being whipped and beaten with the makeshift poles that were used to fly flags during the demonstration.

An unnamed friend of the reporter told The Sunday Times: 'Lara is getting better daily. The psychological trauma is as bad as, if not worse than, the physical injuries. She might talk about it at sometime in the future, but not now.'
Even more shocking is that incidents like these are not that rare.

Kim Barker describes a "minor" incident when she waded into a Pakistani crowd:

So, wearing a black headscarf and a loose, long-sleeved red tunic over jeans, I waded through the crowd and started taking notes: on the men throwing rose petals, on the men shouting that they would die for the chief justice, on the men sacrificing a goat.

And then, almost predictably, someone grabbed my buttocks. I spun around and shouted, but then it happened again, and again, until finally I caught one offender’s hand and punched him in the face. The men kept grabbing. I kept punching. At a certain point — maybe because I was creating a scene — I was invited into the chief justice’s vehicle.

At the time, in June 2007, I saw this as just one of the realities of covering the news in Pakistan. I didn’t complain to my bosses. To do so would only make me seem weak. Instead, I made a joke out of it and turned the experience into a positive one: See, being a woman helped me gain access to the chief justice.

And really, I was lucky. A few gropes, a misplaced hand, an unwanted advance — those are easily dismissed. I knew other female correspondents who weren’t so lucky, those who were molested in their hotel rooms, or partly stripped by mobs. But I can’t ever remember sitting down with my female peers and talking about what had happened, except to make dark jokes, because such stories would make us seem different from the male correspondents, more vulnerable. I would never tell my bosses for fear that they might keep me at home the next time something major happened.
The CPJ blog elaborates:

Here are some of the cases of sexual violence against journalists CPJ has documented:

Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya was raped, kidnapped, and beaten in May 2000 after reporting on far-right paramilitaries while on assignment for the Bogotá daily El Espectador: "Floating in and out of consciousness, Bedoya was taken to a house across the street from the prison," wrote CPJ's Frank Smyth that same year. "The kidnappers bound her hands and feet, taped her mouth, and blindfolded her eyes. Then they drove her to Villavicencio, where she was savagely beaten and raped. During the assault, the men told her in graphic detail about all the other journalists who they planned to kill."

In 2006, we reported on a plot to kidnap and rape Mexican journalist and human rights activist Lydia Cacho Ribeiro. Cacho was arrested on December 17, 2005, and released on bail the next day in connection with a case against her for defamation and slander, which CPJ found was brought in retaliation for her reporting on a child pornography and prostitution ring. Tapes of telephone conversations between several people, two of whom were the governor of the state of Puebla, Mario Marín, and a local businessman, were delivered to the Mexico City offices of the daily La Jornada. Media reports said the recordings were made before and during Cacho's detention. In the tapes, obscene language was used to describe plans to put Cacho behind bars and assault her. In one conversation before Cacho's arrest, a man who was identified by the Mexican press as Hanna Nakad Bayeh, a Puebla-based clothing manufacturer, asked businessman José Camel Nacif Borge to pay someone to rape her in jail. According to the transcriptions published in La Jornada, Nacif replied, "she has already been taken care of."
A 2007 article from Columbia Journalism Review has more:

The photographer was a seasoned operator in South Asia. So when she set forth on an assignment in India, she knew how to guard against gropers: dress modestly in jeans secured with a thick belt and take along a male companion. All those preparations failed, however, when an unruly crowd surged and swept away her colleague. She was pushed into a ditch, where several men set upon her, tearing at her clothes and baying for sex. They ripped the buttons off her shirt and set to work on her trousers.

“My first thought was my cameras,” recalls the photographer, who asked to remain anonymous. “Then it was, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to be raped.’˺” With her faced pressed into the soil, she couldn’t shout for help, and no one would have heard her anyway above the mob’s taunts. Suddenly a Good Samaritan in the crowd pulled the photographer by the camera straps several yards to the feet of some policemen who had been watching the scene without intervening. They sneered at her exposed chest, but escorted her to safety.

Alone in her hotel room that night, the photographer recalls, she cried, thinking, “What a bloody way to make a living.“ She didn’t inform her editors, however. “I put myself out there equal to the boys. I didn’t want to be seen in any way as weaker.” 
Women have risen to the top of war and foreign reportage. They run bureaus in dodgy places and do jobs that are just as dangerous as those that men do. But there is one area where they differ from the boys–sexual harassment and rape. Female reporters are targets  in lawless places where guns are common and punishment rare. Yet the compulsion to be part of the macho club is so fierce that women often don’t tell their bosses. Groping hands and lewd come-ons are stoically accepted as part of the job, especially in places where western women are viewed as promiscuous. War zones in particular seem to invite unwanted advances, and sometimes the creeps can be the drivers, guards, and even the sources that one depends on to do the job. Often they are drunk. But female journalists tend to grit their teeth and keep on working, unless it gets worse.

Because of the secrecy around sexual assaults, it’s hard to judge their frequency. Yet I  know of a dozen such assaults, including one suffered by a man. Eight of the cases involve forced intercourse, mostly in combat zones. The perpetrators included hotel employees, support staff, colleagues, and the very people who are paid to guarantee safety–policemen and security guards. None of the victims want to be named. For many women, going public can cause further distress. In the words of an American correspondent who awoke in her Baghdad compound to find her security guard’s head in her lap, “I don’t want it out there, for people to look at me and think, ‘Hmmm. This guy did that to her, yuck.’ I don’t want to be viewed in my worst vulnerability.”

The only attempt to quantify this problem has been a slim survey of female war reporters published two years ago by the International News Safety Institute, based in Brussels. Of the twenty-nine respondents who took part, more than half reported sexual harassment on  the job. Two said they had experienced sexual abuse. But even when the abuse is rape, few correspondents tell anyone, even friends. The shame runs so deep–and the fear of being pulled off an assignment, especially in a time of shrinking budgets, is so strong– that no one wants intimate violations to resound in a newsroom.

Rodney Pinder, the director of the institute, was struck by how some senior newswomen he approached after the 2005 survey were reluctant to take a stand on rape. “The feedback I got was mainly that women didn’t want to be seen as ‘special’ cases for fear that, a) it affected gender equality and b) it hindered them getting assignments,” he says.
Caroline Neil, who has done safety training with major networks over the past decade,
agrees. “The subject has been swept under the carpet. It’s something people don’t like to
talk about.”

In the cases that I know of, the journalists did nothing to provoke the attacks; they behaved with utmost propriety, except perhaps for one bikini-clad woman who was raped by a hotel employee while sunbathing on the roof in a conservative Middle Eastern country. The correspondent who was molested by her Iraqi security guard is still puzzling over the fact that he brazenly crept into her room while colleagues slept nearby. “You do everything right and then something like this happens,” she says. “I never wore tight Tshirts or  outrageous clothes. But he knew I didn’t have a tribe that would go after him.”

That guard lost his job, but such punishment is rare. A more typical case is of an award winning British correspondent who was raped by her translator in Africa. Reporting him to a police force known for committing atrocities seemed like a futile exercise.

Like most foreign correspondents who were assaulted, those women were targets of opportunity. The predators took advantage because they could. Local journalists face the added risk of politically motivated attacks. The Committee to Protect Journalists, for example, cites rape threats against female reporters in Egypt who were seen as government critics. Rebels raped someone I worked with in Angola for her perceived sympathy for the ruling party. In one notorious case in Colombia in 2000, the reporter Jineth Bedoya Lima was kidnapped and gang-raped in what she took as reprisal for her newspaper’s suggestion that a paramilitary group ordered some executions. She is the only colleague I know of who has gone on the record about her rape.

The general reluctance to call attention to the problem creates a vicious cycle, whereby editors, who are still typically men, are unaware of the dangers because women don’t bring them up. Survivors of attacks often suffer in lonely silence, robbed of the usual camaraderie that occurs when people are shot or kidnapped. It was an open secret in our Moscow press corps in the 1990s that a young freelancer had been gang-raped by policemen. But given the sexual nature of her injury, no one but the woman’s intimates dared extend sympathies.

Even close calls frequently go unmentioned. In my own case, I never reported to my foreign editor a narrow escape at an airport in Angola in 1995. Two drunken policemen pointing AK-47’s threatened to march a colleague and me into a shack for "some fun." We got away untouched, so why bring up the matter? I didn’t want my boss to think that my gender was a liability.
I am certainly not going to criticize victims of sexual assault for not going public. However, the news industry as a whole has a responsibility to report on the topic, without naming names.

Because it is swept under the rug, people get the impression that all people are the same, and that all cultures are equally righteous. Obviously there are rapes in the West as well, but female reporters in Missouri or Birmingham do not have to worry as much about these sorts of incidents as those in Egypt, Pakistan and Russia.

Last year, in one of Israel's more regrettable episodes, a female Al Jazeera reporter was strip searched before a press conference. She spoke up and it became an international incident. And she was right to speak up.

But when only a relatively minor incident in Israel gets major coverage - one in which no one is even alleging sexual overtones - shouldn't these far more common cases in Arab, Muslim and other countries get a lot more exposure?

Or is it not only the female reporters who want to sweep it under the rug, but the entire journalism profession that doesn't want to appear Islamophobic or to feed stereotypes?

(h/t Silke, Jed)