"I don't think the answer is to not send women in."
June 21, 2011 10:19 PM   Subscribe

"For journalists, it's a little hard for them to be the story." A discussion on Radio Times of sexual violence against journalists (previously) and breaking the silence. With Lauren Wolfe, author of a special report on sexual violence against journalists by the Committee to Protect Journalists; Kim Barker, who corresponded from Afghanistan, Pakistan and India; and Elana Newman, research director at the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma.

Direct link to the Podcast Audio
posted by Deathalicious (22 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
"I don't think the answer is to not send women in."

Interesting theory.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:42 AM on June 22, 2011


I am a biologist. My work requires me to go to very isolated spots to catch spiders. I have always been restricted by the fact that it is safer for a bloke to accompany me. I have had some very narrow shaves in the past that have made me very aware of the fact that I do not want to die.

Right now I am working in the Pacific islands and for the first time in my life it is safe for me to do fieldwork on my own - the feeling of freedom is just incredible. I can just DECIDE to go somewhere, and I can. I don't have to organise a crew, I just go and do the work (pending community approval to access their land, obviously). It is SO productive and just SO wonderful.

So before any folks start talking about what women should and should not do, maybe try to remember my absolute joy at being a free agent. It is fan-fucking-tastic.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 12:55 AM on June 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


It's pretty screwed up that as a biologist who goes into the wilderness to catch spiders, people are the most dangerous thing you encounter.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:59 AM on June 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have always been restricted by the fact that it is safer for a bloke to accompany me. I have had some very narrow shaves in the past that have made me very aware of the fact that I do not want to die.

The better half works for a company that has interests in Africa and Mongolia, but mostly Australia. For whatever reason they simply don’t send female engineers or accountants to those first two spots. Is it fair to call this glass ceiling related? And the time they did send a female to Mongolia, she found out all the fellas were cheating on their wives and kicked up a bit of a stink. I mean, WTF?

Alice, my guess is you're not working in PNG?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 1:12 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, not PNG... Polynesia!
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 1:18 AM on June 22, 2011


"I don't think the answer is to not send women in."

Then what IS the answer? Are they going to tell bad people to not be so bad?

For every person going in a dangerous situation, they need to do a little risk analysys.

"Is the risk of *whatever* worth the story for ME?" Thats all.

Now, more and more female journalists are coming forward with similar stories. They also say that they chose to remain silent about these experiences because of cultural and professional stigmas against women journalists and for fear that they would be perceived as vulnerable and therefore denied future assignments in dangerous parts of the world

I really don't know what the answer is here. On one hand, I'd rather send a dude in a situation where a woman might be a victim of sexual violence. On the other hand, this could be considered sexist and discriminatory behavior. Which I also think it is.

So what is the answer?
posted by hal_c_on at 1:51 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow! My sister just finished a fellowship with them yesterday. Cool timing.
posted by taff at 2:06 AM on June 22, 2011


The answer has nothing to do with whether an organisation would send a woman into a situation. EVERY time I go into the field I do that risk analysis, and I plan my fieldwork to reduce the risk of encountering a violent situation.

The answer has nothing to do with policy, I think that it is about women working out the risks they are personally able to deal with, and organisations providing appropriate support when it is required. The biggest problem I face is my workplace not listening to my thoughts on what actions would make fieldwork safer (e.g. not providing field assistants, not providing signs for the car that would signify what institution I belong to etc etc).

I don't mean to dominate the thread (and I am sure the effect will dissipate whilst I'm asleep), but it isn't as simple as "Is the risk of *whatever* worth the story for ME?". I have to evaluate the risks of conducting fieldwork every day. I love my work and I love fieldwork, and I will endeavour to do my work in the safest way possible. It'd be nice if my institution would listen to what I say I need (as a woman) to be as safe as possible, rather than dismissing the benefit of my experience.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 2:11 AM on June 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


It'd be nice if my institution would listen to what I say I need (as a woman) to be as safe as possible, rather than dismissing the benefit of my experience.

I see your point.

But you do realize that your managers are guided by cost and liability, right? And besides that...managers generally suck at looking out for their workers. Your issue seems more like a HR issue than does the issue of journalists going of into places where a few simple safeguards like signage would make them safer.

Go talk to HR.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:27 AM on June 22, 2011


Somewhat related to this, I do wonder about any journalist just popping into the latest hot spot. Why did Anderson Cooper go to Cairo when CNN already had a solid, full-time staffer there? Someone who spoke Arabic and knew his way around after living there with his family for a while.

Of course ratings increase when Anderson is there... but as a former expat who lived in Egypt, it seemed stupid to me to have people who didn't know much about Egypt swooping in to report.

Of course, it can be particularly dangerous for women--and even when they're embedded not just parachuting in for the top story. But I wonder, sincerely, if women journalists have fewer problems in places where they've lived for a while, where they speak at least some of the local language, where they know the local culture. And wouldn't that make for better reporting anyway--from men and women?
posted by bluedaisy at 2:29 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


So I'm also a female biologist who works in isolated locations, usually in the developing world. During my first stint of fieldwork, I was frequently sexually harassed by our field assistants. During my second stint of fieldwork, I was raped by a staff member at my field site. As I prepare for another study to go gather data for my dissertation, I'm trying to figure out what I can do differently.

More than anything, what I want is a network of other women scientists who have experienced sexual assault in the field. A group of people who can help me figure out how to ask my (older, male) advisor "So do you think the field assistants we have will rape me?" or broach my concerns without him thinking I'm being squeamish. I didn't tell previous advisors when I was raped, and I'm realizing that may have been a poor decision. But I don't want being statistically more likely to be raped than my male colleagues to be a deciding factor in my life any more than being statistically more likely to get pregnant and take maternity leave should determine what I can and cannot do. I will continue to take precautions. But I'll continue to do my work, too. I love what I do!!!!

Like journalists, I don't want to be restricted just because it's apparently easier for someone to be nastily violent to me in more destructive ways than for my male colleagues.
posted by SockMarionette at 4:11 AM on June 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


Why can't media companies send reporters who are more ethnically compatible with the part of the world in question. What happened to Cooper and Logan is indeed heinous, but were there no Egyptian-American journalists who knew the dress code, social mores, and language that could have covered the story instead? I bet the attacks would not have happened then. The reporting would be better informed also.
posted by Renoroc at 4:30 AM on June 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


were there no Egyptian-American journalists who knew the dress code, social mores, and language that could have covered the story instead? I bet the attacks would not have happened then.

Local women in Egypt are frequently sexually harassed and assaulted. Being born here, speaking fluent English, and wearing the latest fashions will not keep you from being raped in the US. And in the remote field locations that are being discussed above, local women are also assaulted, of course.

There are times where being from the outside will put you at greater risk (you might be perceived as having no one to defend you, say), but it can also function as a protection (because assaults on foreign women are often investigated, especially if there is an impact to tourism, whereas assaults locally may not be investigated or punished).

The dangerous part is being female, not being foreign or wearing the wrong clothes. (That said, I do wish that there was a rule requiring that they used journalists who spoke at least a smattering of the local language; there just isn't much value in the parachuting in and out method that seems to drive the ratings; meanwhile, the serious (and much more dangerous) day to day work journalism is still done by local stringers, of course.)
posted by Forktine at 4:41 AM on June 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


were there no Egyptian-American journalists who knew the dress code, social mores, and language that could have covered the story instead? I bet the attacks would not have happened then.

Being born here, speaking fluent English, and wearing the latest fashions will not keep you from being raped in the US.

Repeated for truth. 1 of 6 U.S. women has experienced an attempted or completed rape (according to Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault).

Instead of saddling women with yet another burden, that of "risk analysis", how about working towards education on basic respect and human rights. For those of all chromosome pairings. SockMarionette was raped by a fellow staff member – this is something that needs to be adressed on an all-inclusive level, not remarks that have a strong whiff of "hey women stop doin' men's work and y'all won't be hurt". That kind of remark facilitates guys like SockMarionette's rapist. He believed he could get away with it in that context.
posted by fraula at 4:50 AM on June 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


And right here in LA....
posted by vitabellosi at 5:37 AM on June 22, 2011


I really don't know what the answer is here. On one hand, I'd rather send a dude in a situation where a woman might be a victim of sexual violence. On the other hand, this could be considered sexist and discriminatory behavior. Which I also think it is.

So what is the answer?


Seeing as environments that are rape happy are also often very dangerous for everyone (I wouldn't exactly call say, Afghanistan, an easy assignment for anyone), you assume that if you send your employee, risks will happen and structure your compensation and support package with this as one of the many variables that can happen.

After all, men get raped too. They're just even -less- in a position to talk about it. Furthermore, we tolerate even worse things happening to men (if you perceive dying as being worse than rape) in field placements in all sorts of careers, as a matter of course. I don't mean this to turn the topic of worrying about poor men, I mean that treating women like they're worth more than men intact is part of sexism.

Basically, if you're sending a dude into an area known to be rape happy, instead of a woman, he might get raped or assaulted or murdered too. You just perceive the consequences for a man as somehow less depressing as the consequences for a woman, even though statistically speaking, we know things like the fact that men are -more- likely to be murdered than women (perhaps in part because we're culturally expected to be able to handle dangerous areas better).
posted by Phalene at 5:40 AM on June 22, 2011


If you listen to the whole story and read all of the links, any number of those journalists are either local or embedded and at pains to point out that they are always respectful of local dress customs. This is not an issue of being inappropriately dressed. This is an issue of being a woman. Women are at high risk of rape wherever they are, however they are dressed. Field biologists, military personnel, journalists, Peace Corps volunteers, nuns... it happens all the time, to every kind of woman.

That being the reality, things that would help were mentioned - an aftercare kit with the morning after pill, antibiotics, etc would be a good standard issue item. Maybe just as useful is the out-loud acknowledgement that this is happening so that women can develop an unofficial back channel to vet bodyguards, minders and fixers.

The risk is everywhere. Keeping woman safely at home doesn't keep us safe.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:51 AM on June 22, 2011 [10 favorites]


Phalene, maybe if men spoke up about being raped, it would be acknowledged as a risk of reporting, instead of a risk of female reporting. And yes, more men are killed in the field, but there are more men in the field, period. You don't honestly think that the same people who would murder a male reporter would refrain from killing a female one? Female reporters are killed on assignment, but they are less likely to be sent to cover battlefields. I wonder why?
posted by domo at 7:15 AM on June 22, 2011


But you do realize that your managers are guided by cost and liability, right?... Your issue seems more like a HR issue than does the issue of journalists going of into places where a few simple safeguards like signage would make them safer. Go talk to HR.

hal_c_on, this isn't really the jurisdiction of HR at research universities. Universities do have OHS officers, but in my case they were always more concerned with the risk of my being bitten by a spider or snake than the risk of violence. All the major incidents I have experienced in the field to date have related to human violence. After my very close call (eight men waiting by my car for me to emerge from the bush, howling like dogs and doing burnouts with their cars) I requested that my department consider: (a) assigning funding to provide female field researchers with a field assistant for a certain number of hours; and (b) providing magnetic signs for our cars that signify which university we come from (currently university policy is for all cars to be unmarked, to prevent vandalism). Both those actions would assist with the safety of female field workers, and both those proposals were turned down.

SockMarionette, I am so sorry that you went through that. I've put a lot of thought into how I can improve my safety, and that of female students working in the field - memail me if you're interested in chatting more about it.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 9:42 AM on June 22, 2011


hal_c_on, this may be of assistance?
http://feminally.tumblr.com/post/168208983/sexual-assault-prevention-tips-guaranteed-to-work

But srsly, the idea behind gender equity - or nondiscrimination on any other basis (disability, etc.) - in the workplace, including for journalists on assignment in dangerous areas, is that employers should provide resources necessary so that each employee can safely (or, as reasonably safely as possible in the case of dangerous jobs) perform their job; that discrimination is anything that affects one category of people disproportionately, even if the proximal reasons for the policy or decisions are not immediately, intentionally discriminatory.

cf. https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Anatole_France#Famous_sayings
posted by eviemath at 4:27 PM on June 22, 2011


I get really tired of women somehow always boiling down to something for a man to shove his cock into and/or kill.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:00 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are you saying that news organizations should hire mercenaries to help protect their people in dangerous assignments, eviemath? I'd imagine that military combat experience, martial arts training, etc. already factor positively into hiring considerations for "the guys who help lug around the camera equipment".
posted by jeffburdges at 6:37 AM on July 3, 2011


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