Sexually assaulted journalists fear retribution if they step forward, CPJ report says

By Ian Tennant

Journalists who have been sexually assaulted in the line of work have been reluctant to step forward for fear of being reassigned, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) revealed June 7 in a new report "The Silencing Crime: Sexual Violence and Journalists."

For the first time in many cases, journalists talked openly with the CPJ about the sexual abuse they suffered, ranging from rape to aggressive groping and verbal sexual harassment. Many of the 52 female and male journalists from around the world, 27 local and 25 international journalists, had until now discussed their abuse with only family and friends or not at all.

But, as the CPJ's Lauren Wolfe noted, Lara Logan prompted "journalists worldwide to begin speaking out in numbers previously unknown" after the CBS correspondent publicly discussed the sexual assault and beating she suffered in Tahrir Square in Cairo on Feb. 11.

Wolfe's special report starts with the story of Jineth Bedoya, who was brutally raped in May 2000 while covering right-wing paramilitaries for the Bogotá daily El Espectador. Bedoya, who has taken her case against the Colombian government to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, told Wolfe that she stepped forward because she hopes to encourage other journalists to “denounce what’s happened to them and be able to ask for justice.”

The CPJ found that journalists who had been attacked did not to talk about the violence for a number of reasons, primarily because "many were reluctant to disclose an assault to their editors for fear they would be perceived as vulnerable and be denied future assignments."

Relating sexual assaults as attacks on press freedoms, Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma, said: “If we want to make journalists safe and effective, make it possible for them to do their job safely and effectively, we can only do that by confronting honestly the real risks that are present."

In addition to its report, the CPJ added a section on "sexual aggression" to its security guide. Among the suggestions are that journalists should dress conservatively, travel in groups and research the customs of an area if it is new to them.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.