Most Female Journalists Harassed At Work

by Krystin Arneson

Anchorman never really went away: Although the movie is full of, um, "ironic" sexism, a new joint report from the International News Safety Institute and the International Women’s Media Foundation indicates that it's not so ironic after all. Almost two-thirds of women in the media claimed they had been harassed or threatened on the job — and most of it, they said, is done in the workplace, by their male colleagues. And despite these numbers, the report concluded that the majority of employers don't do enough to prepare, protect, or support their employees.

“When we talk about safety for the media, we often think in terms of staying safe in war zones, civil unrest and environmental disasters, but how often do we think of the office as a hostile environment?” said INSI Director Hannah Storm.

The survey examined the experiences of 875 women, more than 41 percent of whom were between 25 and 34. It didn't include interns, who, in media hotspots like New York, have no legal protection against harassment. More than 82 percent described themselves as reporters, and just under half came from newspapers. Twenty-three percent came from magazines, 21 percent from TV, and 16 percent from radio.

Surprisingly, for those with rose-tinted views of women journalists reporting from a battle-ravaged desert, most of the abuse happens in the cubicle maze. While the most common form of abuse was that of abuse of power by a supervisor, more than 50 percent of respondents had experienced sexual harassment, half of which came from colleagues. And in a profession heavily dependent on technology, the abuse didn't stop at dirty comments or verbal intimidation: One-quarter of women experienced phone-tapping, and around 21 percent had been under digital surveillance.

And out of the office, the job gets even more dangerous. What is harassment in the office turns to violence in the field: 63 percent of female journalists have experienced sexual violence, most of which was perpetrated by fixers, fellow media workers or protestors. Physical violence that occurred "in relation to their work" was a check-mark for 12 percent of the women, who said it mostly happened in the field.

Freelancers, who accounted for just under half of respondents, are arguably the most vulnerable of the media workers: While they don't have the intraoffice harassment, they have no support for what happens on the field, and few options if targeted by someone via wiretap or surveillance. There are no resources for training or protection.

But frankly, it doesn't get much better if they're not self-employed: 78 percent of women aren't prepared by their employers for violence or harassment, 77 percent aren't trained in online security, almost 80 percent aren't trained in protecting their sources, and 69 percent said that their company doesn't take any measures in regard to personal security.

Compared to other job sectors, the 64.48 percent of female media workers who report being harassed stands out as more than average. But what is average? Although there's little data breaking down harassment claims by occupation, across all jobs and all ranks, it's estimated that more than half of women experience harassment. From a report by the National Women's Law Center:

Sexual harassment is very widespread and affects women in every workplace setting and at every level of employment. Surveys indicate that almost half of all working women have experienced some form of harassment on the job, a proportion that has not changed since the issue gained visibility in the early 1980s ... No occupation is immune from sexual harassment, but the incidence of harassment is higher in workplaces that have traditionally excluded women, including both blue collar jobs like mining and white collar ones like surgery.

And with most of the harassment coming from male colleagues, is it any wonder that lists such as Forbes' "10 Worst Jobs for Women" use criteria such as "income," "projected growth," "job earnings"... and, um, "percentage of women in the job"? Were it not for that last criterion, it would simply be a list of worst jobs. Is Forbes' implying that having other women around to form a sort of support group excuses an otherwise poor work culture?

“What this ground-breaking survey shows is that women journalists are often at risk in their own workplaces as well: targeted by their colleagues, and because they are let down by the very people they should be able to trust, the violence and harassment they face goes widely unreported and therefore unpunished," Storm said.

According to data from the National Women's Law Center, only five to 15 percent of women report sexual harassment in the workplace (A study commissioned by Slater & Gordon is slightly more optimistic, with 27 percent reporting incidences.) Women sometimes choose to take on the psychological impact of it alone so that they don't see a professional impact that could come from reporting the abuse. One woman, in an October article published in The Guardian, saw her hours cut with each complain she made.

And for the ones that do file a complaint, their report is swept under the rug completely:

What's worse is that even when victims do find the courage to come forward, they frequently report being dismissed, as the problem is belittled and normalised: "A male boss said he'd 'love to bend me over' and more, I reported it to female supervisor who said I was being 'sensitive.'"

The companies that employ journalists (and, well, people in general) need to take a hard look at themselves: Why are the resources that journalists need not in place? Does an office culture that discourages reporting keep the need for these resources hidden? It is financial? What should be shifted around to allocate resources? Because something needs to be done.

It should be noted that the women-in-the-media survey was done via a SurveyMonkey poll, which doesn't perform background checks to make sure that the respondents, numbering 875 from around the globe, really are journalists. In any case, the report gives a good idea of what female journalists are putting up with, and how far companies need to go to protect them. And for both categories, that's a lot.

Image: Paramount