Silence, Reporters and Rape

My friend Ann Friedman writes about Lara Logan, the CBS reporter who was sexually assaulted and beaten while reporting from Tahrir Square, and why it’s important to ensure the safety of female journalists reporting overseas in unstable conditions:

Do reporters like Lara Logan and Mac face greater threats to their safety than male reporters do in similar situations? Yes. But do they also, by dint of their gender, gain greater access to certain sources — and arguably do their job better? Sometimes, yeah. I have a hard time believing that rape survivors in Haiti would have been as open with a male reporter as they were with Mac. Doing everything in our power to ensure the safety of women reporters — and supporting them unequivocally when that safety is threatened or violated — isn’t just important on feminist grounds. It’s important on journalistic grounds, too.

One thing that strikes me about this, and the Judith Matloff piece about female reporters and sexual assault and harassment, is how many women stay quiet:

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.

But this makes sense. I don’t think there’s any woman who hasn’t stayed silent at one time or another about assault or harassment.Assuming CBS released the information with Logan’s consent, it’s pretty amazing of her to be open about it. It’s a terrible choice, though; talking about it means opening oneself up to ignorant and sexist comments about where women should and shouldn’t work — work-shaming, instead of slut-shaming. Not talking about it means no one knows, but also that nothing changes.

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