In the middle of a crowd of boisterous soccer fans gathered in Saransk, Russia, last week, one woman was subjected to a televised sexual assault. An unidentified man kissed and groped a female reporter during her World Cup broadcast — all while the journalist continued, unfazed.
Julieth Gonzalez Theran, a journalist from Colombia who's been covering the tournament on the ground, was just beginning her broadcast when a soccer fan jumped into the frame. Grinning widely, he grabbed Gonzalez Theran's breast, kissed her cheek, and ran away.
Gonzalez Theran kept reporting — even while she was being groped — and refused to acknowledge the incident during the broadcast. She says that she looked for the man after she went off the air, but that he'd disappeared.
"RESPECT!" she wrote on Instagram later, sharing a video of the event. "We do not deserve this treatment. We are equally valuable and professionals. I share the joy of football, but we must identify the limits of affection and harassment."
Gonzalez Theran had been reporting for Deutsche Welle (DW)'s Spanish news channel, and she later spoke to the outlet about the incident. "I had been at the scene for two hours to prepare for the broadcast and there had been no interruptions," she said. "When we went live, this fan took advantage of the situation."
She also said that the incident is part of a larger culture of disrespecting female sports journalists. "Lots of people think that the reporter is only there to bring some color to the picture," she told DW. "But we want to talk about systems and strategy."
DW itself notes that Gonzalez Theran's experience is only one of many instances of sexual assault that have plagued female sports reporters. One recent example is the case of Mexican journalist Maria Fernanda Mora, who was groped repeatedly while on air with Fox Sports in April. Like Gonzalez Theran, she attempted to continue with her broadcast — but the man stopped only when she turned around and hit him with her microphone.
"I don't regret my reaction at all," she wrote on Twitter, according to a translation by the London Evening Standard. "This guy, emboldened because I did not react and kept doing my job, put his hand between my buttocks twice more. [...] I defended myself because women are NOT GOING TO LEAVE AND WE ARE NOT GOING TO STOP."
Then there's Bruna Dealtry, a sports reporter from Brazil, who was forcibly kissed by a fan while reporting on a soccer match in March. "I'm a soccer reporter, I'm a woman and I deserve to be respected," she wrote on Facebook afterward.
That incident happened around the time of a series of similar events in Brazil; in response, a group of female journalists there began a campaign called #DeixaElaTrabalhar, or "Let Her Do Her Job." The project is fighting against the harassment, disrespect, and threats often received by women reporters.
DW says it trains its reporters how to respond if a live broadcast is interrupted. The outlet notes that it warned its employees that they could face increased dangers on the ground in Russia, and that broadcasters are aware that the atmosphere at big sporting events tends to breed inappropriate behavior.
Bibiana Steinhaus, the first female referee for Germany's male football league, called Gonzalez Theran's sexual assault "unacceptable" when talking to DW. "I feel for her, because this type of attack has happened several times in the past," she said. "Don't kid yourself that similar misogynist things do not happen."
Gonzalez Theran told DW that the man who groped her is part of a larger "problem" that "we must clearly deal with." But she also noted that for her, at least, it was "an isolated incident."
"There are always fans that compliment you and behave respectfully," she said. "This one went too far."