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Documenting sexual violence against journalists

Jineth Bedoya takes notes in December 2000 under the watch of a bodyguard in Bogotá in an armored car after she was kidnapped, beaten, and raped in April that year. (AP/Ariana Cubillos)

The news of the sexual assault against CPJ board member and CBS correspondent Lara Logan hit us hard on Tuesday. At CPJ, we work daily to advocate on behalf of journalists under attack in all kinds of horrific situations around the world. Because of Lara's untiring work with our Journalist Assistance program, she's well known to everyone on our staff.

Since the news broke, we have been asked why there is little on our website about sexual assaults, and what kind of data we have about women journalists and rape. The simple answers are these: We have little on our site because sexual assault is not commonly reported to us--the data, therefore, is not available. What I can tell you is that we receive calls in which journalists report on risky conditions in particular cities or countries, sometimes telling us of their personal molestation or rape, and usually ask that we not share their private pain.

We have advocated for our concerns about sexual violence against journalists on a political level. For instance, we wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in September 2009 to raise awareness about the safety of three women reporters covering women's issues and "femicide" in Bukavu, in Congo. "The unstable eastern region, which is rich in minerals but devastated by war and atrocities against civilians, including the systematic rape of women, is currently one of Africa's most dangerous cities for journalists, according to CPJ research," we wrote.

In some cases, we provide monetary assistance or referrals to psychological counselors to journalists who have been victims of sexual violence.

Our journalist security handbook, last updated in 2003, does not include a section on sexual violence and harassment. There's been a growing awareness of the issue since, spawned in part by Judith Matloff's excellent 2007 piece, "Foreign Correspondents and Sexual Abuse," in the Columbia Journalism Review. We have been updating our security handbook across the board, and are including a chapter on sexual assault.

Here are some of the cases of sexual violence against journalists CPJ has documented:

Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya was raped, kidnapped, and beaten in May 2000 after reporting on far-right paramilitaries while on assignment for the Bogotá daily El Espectador: "Floating in and out of consciousness, Bedoya was taken to a house across the street from the prison," wrote CPJ's Frank Smyth that same year. "The kidnappers bound her hands and feet, taped her mouth, and blindfolded her eyes. Then they drove her to Villavicencio, where she was savagely beaten and raped. During the assault, the men told her in graphic detail about all the other journalists who they planned to kill."

CPJ protested the Bedoya attack in a letter that month to then-President Andrés Pastrana Arango and followed up with a letter in September expressing concern about the lack of progress in the investigation. By year's end, however, no one had been detained and the prosecutor in charge of the investigation had not even contacted Bedoya, according to the journalist. CPJ met with Bedoya last year, and she told us that although it is believed that undercover agents were behind the attack, Colombian authorities have still done nothing.

In 2006, we reported on a plot to kidnap and rape Mexican journalist and human rights activist Lydia Cacho Ribeiro. Cacho was arrested on December 17, 2005, and released on bail the next day in connection with a case against her for defamation and slander, which CPJ found was brought in retaliation for her reporting on a child pornography and prostitution ring. Tapes of telephone conversations between several people, two of whom were the governor of the state of Puebla, Mario Marín, and a local businessman, were delivered to the Mexico City offices of the daily La Jornada. Media reports said the recordings were made before and during Cacho's detention. In the tapes, obscene language was used to describe plans to put Cacho behind bars and assault her. In one conversation before Cacho's arrest, a man who was identified by the Mexican press as Hanna Nakad Bayeh, a Puebla-based clothing manufacturer, asked businessman José Camel Nacif Borge to pay someone to rape her in jail. According to the transcriptions published in La Jornada, Nacif replied, "she has already been taken care of."

Women are not the only journalists at risk for sexual assault because of their reporting. Beyond the systematic use of rape in Iranian prisons, where dozens of journalists are being held, such violence is used against particular male reporters in attempts to intimidate them into silence. In 1996, we reported on the case of Mumtaz Sher in Sindh Province, Pakistan. Men employed by a local landlord kidnapped and sexually assaulted Sher, a correspondent for the daily Bakhtar, after his newspaper published an article about alleged misconduct by a school administrator who was also the landlord's wife. There is the recent case of Umar Cheema, a critical reporter for the largest English-language Pakistani newspaper, The News, who suffered torture and sexual assault in September when he was kidnapped in Islamabad: "As I was stripped naked and being tortured on the back with my head down totally blindfolded, the ringleader directed one of his fellows to molest me," which they did, sodomizing him with a wooden pole, Cheema told CPJ.

Since Logan's sexual assault, we have been asked a lot about the risks of hostility against foreign correspondents abroad. While foreign correspondents certainly face their share, take a look at our stats on the violence local journalists face in their home countries--the numbers are dramatically worse. Eighty-seven percent of journalists killed since CPJ began keeping statistics in 1992 are local. Franchou Namegabe Nabintu, an award-winning journalist from the Democratic Republic of Congo, told CPJ in May 2009 it was exactly because she lived in an atmosphere charged with the constant threat of rape that she and her female colleagues took up the profession--"we started to use the microphone as a weapon," Nabintu said.

In her article, Matloff argued that sexual violence against journalists will remain underreported until the stigma is removed. While that's certainly true in principle, we also recognize that the decision to discuss sexual violence is a very personal one. We will continue to document incidents of sexual violence as they are brought to us, but always with the consent of the journalist involved.

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Comments

I never knew this group existed. I only found it after googling to find out how Ms. Logan was. People should be made aware of the violent crimes against reporters and reporters shouldn't be shamed into silence. Very sad to see so many dealing with their pain in silence.

Well done. I actually just blogged about this topic yesterday. Very scary and shocking that it would happen to such a high-profile journalist in a crowd of people, but as you note, sexual assaults/aggression against foreign correspondents are a sad reality. Most just never report it.

If any good can come out of this tragedy, more women will come forward about this and more news agencies will outfit their female reporters with necessary security/training.

Thanks for addressing this.

l am glad to know that this is of great interest to CPJ. it's so unfortunate that this is coming late to the time some journalists here were harrased and the truma they had gone through has really made most of them drop the profession as journalists and would not want it mention for sake of stigma.
Am happy that this will fine solution to put a stop to rape on female journalists.
Great issue to discuss.
l am glad to be here.

Any what has happened is really deplorable..It may mar the spirit of such an uprising!!

Great article, however, I think it should be noted that attack on Lara Logan was fundamentally different from stated examples as it wasn't a politically motivated intended to bully her as a journalist. Reason for this assault stemms from deep problem of sexual harassement present among Egyptian population.
It had nothing to do with her being a journalist. By the way I also read about smilar incident, though luckily stopped in the beginning, that happened amongst crowd of people in India, just to offer comparable example

I'm very glad to have run into the CPJ as well. I was doing some additional research into the situation for my organization's blog. My colleague and I just did a two part security analysis of the Lara Logan assault. We operate a non-profit security organization and would like to help protect journalists reporting in conflict zones. The incident could have been prevented by the presence of competent security professionals with Ms. Logan.

I've read in recent days (after the assault on Ms. Logan) that women journalists are concerned about their future opportunities being limited if they are frank with their employers and the public about sexual attacks on them. This should never, ever be the case. Women journalists have every right to be treated as the equals of their male counterparts, regardless of whether they are now and then subjected to sexual harassment. Real protection against such harassment can only be put in place when such incidents are widely known. Media employers must suck it up and share equally the tough stories in tough places, regardless of any perceived exceptional danger for women journalists. The last thing Ms. Logan would ever have wanted was for her predicament to reduce opportunities available to her and others in her position.

the violence against these journalists is just an extension of the violence against women worldwide... give everyone the means to protect themselves...help them protect themselves.. encourage people everywhere to protect the weak from violence....and ask why is violence so endemic in the world

In contradiction to what "shift" said, rape is always a political act of sexism or an assertion of male supremacy. The particular rape of Logan in Egypt may not have been an act against her as an U.S. citizen or journalist, but as a woman deemed to be an acceptable target of violence and hate because she's not in what's thought to be her proper role and she's without male protection.

Assertions that sexual predation is a private or personal problem puts the onus on the victim, taking the focus off the global political role this practice (rape) serves: to control women, their mobility, their reproductive choices, their career and economic options. Women are forced to shut up about their abuse on penalty of jeopardizing their economic survival - and this doesn't just happen to journalists - women soldiers, couriers, real estate agents, construction workers, housewives, etc. all have it happen to them. Rape is a psychological weapon as well as a physical weapon. And as long as women are considered sexual beings more than as human beings, the devastation to women’s reputation by rape will remain crushing. That’s why it’s important to protect the identity of the victim.

Sexual abuse, though traumatic, is very different for men. Why confound the two and try to make the risks sound equivalent? Men don't risk becoming pregnant, or losing their virginity, or being considered used goods or sluts, or risk losing their jobs because men are thought to be too vulnerable to sexual abuse in many situations.

Now it's March 1st, and still no update on the condition of Lara Logan. Sadly, this has allowed numerous comments along the line of, 'it didn't happen,' or 'it was minimal.' I don't see how this blank-out on any news of the seriousness of her physical injuries is helping her or anyone else. The emotional injuries can only be guessed at, and maybe some day Ms. Logan will describe her journey of recovery.

Janet Scrivener March 1, 2011 3:34:25 PM ET

This is a new and grave situation when journalists are facing sexual violence while they are doing their job.
vikifiles.wordpress.com

While one can feel for those, both men and women, who are sexually assaulted while engaged in news reporting, it doesn't sit well with the notion of journalistic objectivity that you have reporters, apparently mostly female, who use the "microphone as a weapon." It is not, I repeat NOT, the job of reporters to engage in some type of cultural warfare no matter how rightly they may feel aggrieved. If the CPJ accepts such reporters as legitimate, then CPJ has lost any credibility it may have to represent the journalistic profession. Could one imagine if combat soldiers were to behave this way on the battlefield? Indeed, when they do you begin to see a host of atrocities as these individuals wage their own personal war against those who in their eyes violated them. CPJ needs to take the high ground on this and expel as members ANY reporter who wish to use their status as a platform to satisfy some private grievance. I know this will strike some as "insensitive," but we are not speaking of emotions here, but of journalistic ethics and standards that are critical to maintain.

I really admire Lara Logan's courage in speaking up about her brutal trauma. I hope that the code of silence can be broken more often so their voices can be heard and female journalists are better protected.

I salute CPJ for keeping current this amazing web site.

I cannot in any way, shape or form report anything near the degree of what some of these female journalists suffered, because I am not a "hard news" or war correspondent, but worked for years as a freelance art critic. You would not think that that is a job that would put you into any danger of sexual assault, but I had numerous issues of sexual harassment from male interview subjects and, sadly enough, from male colleagues. I had an incident with a male editor with whom I had a dispute about how my article was being edited. When I stood my ground for promises he had previously made regarding word count and editorial control, he became irrationally angry and grabbed me. I think it might have escalated to violence if there had not been other colleagues present. I quit immediately, but had other incidents over the years with being demeaned and spoken to inappropriately. I also used to interview bands, mostly young and male, and often felt uncomfortable, to the point where I began only taking interviews in public places like restaurants and making sure that my editor and roommate knew exactly where I was and when the interview began and ended, in case I disappeared. Sexual impropriety and assault are used as psychological weapons against women, to "keep us in our place." I no longer practice journalism for several reasons, but the sexism in the field is one of the major ones.

FormerFreelancer June 7, 2011 7:08:43 PM ET