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Committee to Protect Journalists reports on sexual violence against reporters

The tactic used to terrorise and silence journalists in the course of their work is at last gaining attention, largely due to the courage of victims who have refused to remain quiet

Ahram Online , Wednesday 8 Jun 2011
Heidi Levine, an American photojournalist, faces harassment from a Jewish settler in Hebron, (AP).
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The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) – an independent organisation that promotes press freedoms and rights of journalists and formed in 1981 as a response to the brutal treatment of foreign correspondents by authoritarian regimes – published a special report by its senior editor Lauren Wolf titled “Sexual violence and journalists.”

The report, published Tuesday, explores incidences of sexual assault against journalists; an issue the report says suffered from being under-documented in the past but is now gaining a new impetus following recent high profile cases.

Wolf cites professional and cultural stigmas as the main causes behind the lack of documented reports of sexual violence, where journalists, especially female journalists, are afraid of being refused assignments by their bosses if they become aware of such incidents. Wolf also mentions cultural stigmas such as women being blamed by their community should they be sexually assaulted.

Wolf highlights Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya, who spoke out about being brutally raped while covering right-wing paramilitary groups back in 2000, as one of the first accounts of sexual violence made public. Her account led to other journalists talking to Bedoya about their own experiences.

Recently, says Wolf, the issue has soared to the fore after CBS’ correspondent in Cairo Lara Logan was assaulted in Tahrir Square while covering the Egyptian uprising. CPJ has, in the past few months, interviewed four dozen journalists who were victims of different degrees of sexual assault.

The report details different cases of sexual assault ranging from aggressive groping to gang rape, stressing that while the victims would previously only confide in close friends and family, there is now a drive to be more outspoken and demand justice.

While the report primarily discusses attacks against women, it does address those suffered by male journalists. Captivity or detention are the usual settings for sexual humiliation and forced sodomy inflicted on reporters. The report mentions the case of Mohammed El-Sharkawi, the Egyptian blogger who was sodomised while in detention in 2006, saying no one was prosecuted for the crime.

Quoting Elana Newman, head of research of Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma, which provides support and guidance in the coverage of traumatic events, the report describes sexual assault as the “silencing crime,” stressing that the CPJ have an obligation to report cases of sexual assault just as it does murders, imprisonments, cases of censorship, especially since it is a largely unexplored problem.

Wolf concludes the report by noting that 11 years after the assault, Bedoya’s attackers were not prosecuted. “Bedoya is seeking to bring a case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on grounds that the Colombian government failed in its duty to seek justice. The time for silence is over.”

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