While there's been plenty of discussion surrounding whether or not women can truly be effective foreign correspondents given their female parts, a new study indicates that the place they face the most trouble isn't reporting in the Middle East: it's in the office.
The International News Safety Institute coupled with the International Women's Media Foundation to survey almost 1000 people working in the media, the majority of whom were women across the globe. Of the women who responded, 64.48% said they'd been harassed in the workplace, predominantly by their male bosses, supervisors or coworkers:
The most common types of sexual harassment experienced by our respondents were: 1. 'unwanted comments on dress and appearance' (169 / 67.87%) 2. 'suggestive remarks or sounds' (151 / 60.64%) and 3. 'jokes of a sexual nature' (143 / 57.43%). The majority of the sexual harassment experienced was not reported to an employer, the police or any other authority.
There were also plenty of reports of women who were harassed because of their age or race.
"When we talk about safety for the media, we often think in terms of staying safe in war zones, civil unrest and environmental disasters, but how often do we think of the office as a hostile environment?", said INSI Director Hannah Storm in a press release:
What this ground-breaking survey shows is that women journalists are often at risk in their own work places as well: targeted by their colleagues, and because they are let down by the very people they should be able to trust, the violence and harassment they face goes widely unreported and therefore unpunished.
But the breakdown between the type of abuse that happens in the office and in the field is striking: the office is largely the place for sexual harassment, while physical violence occurred on the streets. Roughly 20% of respondents said they'd been physically abused, though most of that abuse happened in the field by men. The majority of cases of sexual violence reported were also ones that occurred in the field, with 58% of those who said they'd been at the receiving end of sexual violence said it had occurred while working outside the office, at the hands of fixers, fellow journalists or protestors.
35% said they'd been physically assaulted at work, often by a coworker or boss who "touched [them] in a sexual manner against their will i.e. kissing, grabbing and fondling."
After Lara Logan's assault while reporting in Egypt in 2011, there was plenty of unnecessary speculation that it might not be worth it to send female correspondents overseas because their status as women might endanger them further. Much of the conversation seemed to focus inadvertently or otherwise on how dangerous that might be for white, American women in particular. Unfortunately, looking different in any way tends to endanger people in all circumstances, just as it provides opportunities to gain new information in others. As several Indian female journalists indicated with their stories in the New York Times earlier this fall, even an Indian woman reporting in India can be harassed or assaulted, which is to say that all communities are corrupt.
While media companies struggle to protect male and female reporters overseas with their increasingly slim resources, there's certainly plenty they can do for women working in the very offices their HR departments are located in. The most frustrating information from this report is the low number of organizations that provided both digital and physical training or resources for their employees: roughly 80% of respondents said their employer had done neither. Perhaps because they'd gotten so little support, few women said they'd even reported the issues they'd had to their companies in the first place, despite noting in hindsight that these experiences "had a psychological impact on them."
The INSI and the IWMF said they've gotten hundreds of suggestions from their survey on how media companies could take better care of their employees, and will publish those results early next year.
Image via CBS