This is just to say thank you to Lara Logan for her courage and for speaking out, even indirectly.
If you have not read it yet, Lara Logan, CBS chief foreign correspondent, was sexually assaulted by a mob in Cairo as she was reporting on the protests.
In my daily job I am working with female journalists from the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo and we produce a program on justice and women’s rights, broadcast in North and South Kivu. We report regularly on sexual violence, we interview victims of rape, women who have been sexually harassed at their work place, abused by their husband… But once in a while, the camera turns around and it is my incredibly strong colleagues that are the one attacked. What do you do then? Who will report on it? The truth is, being a female journalist in DRC (like in many countries across the developing world) equates in people’s mind to “being easy”. Most of the time the assault is “only” verbal, psychological, but this get to you almost just as much. My Congolese colleagues tell me because I am a woman and I am outspoken about it, but if I had been a male producer they would never have dared.
I have not worked for very long as a foreign journalist and was never in a situation of the magnitude Logan had to endure, but in barely two years there have already been too many “incidents”. Yet no one ever mentioned that risk to me when I was completing my master in international journalism. I took classes in conflict reporting, went on a hostile environment training, we had lectures by leading experts in the field of security for foreign journalists, but no one mentioned this. I remember a famous female war reporter giving a talk to my class and telling us she never had any problem being a woman in a war zone. Good for her. But for the rest of us it seems to actually be an issue from time to time.
What exactly should be the answer is unclear, certainly female journalists should not be kept away from reporting on particular stories. After all, kidnapped, injured or traumatized war correspondents do not lose their job. But it would be nice to just be able to talk about it without fearing to lose the next big assignment. It would be nice to receive the same support journalists get when they are traumatized by other accidents. It would be nice to receive advice on how to avoid those situations and how to deal with them afterwards. In recent years, post-traumatic stress also known as PTSD, has increasingly been recognized as a serious consequence for foreign journalists reporting on conflict and witnessing atrocities. We should also break the silence on sexual assault – on men and women.
I guess there is no solution to this “added” risk female journalists encounter in war zones. Except maybe for carrying on doing the job, relentlessly, and bringing to the world the other side of the story, the women side. Female journalists are targeted because women are not equal to men in too many parts of the world. We can change that, but we need to talk about it.