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Female Journalists Face Online, Workplace Harassment

At a recent Global Conference for Media Freedom in London, a panel discussed some of those threats and why it's important to find solutions

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female journalists, harassment
A screen at the Global Conference for Media Freedom shows tweets by female journalists about the dangers they face on the job. VOA

The number of journalists killed in 2018 because of their work nearly doubled compared to 2017, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In all, 88 journalists and media workers died on the job, because they were targeted for their reporting or were working in hazardous environments.

Female journalists face the same dangers as their male counterparts when working on an assignment; but, women journalists face other threats that don’t affect men to nearly the same degree.

At a recent Global Conference for Media Freedom in London, a panel discussed some of those threats and why it’s important to find solutions.

Nadine Hoffman, deputy director of the International Women’s Media Foundation, said that in a survey of 600 female journalists last year, more than two-thirds said they had experienced online harassment. She said those attacks are often sexual and misogynistic in nature.

“If you’re a woman and you assert yourself in the online space, men will attack you,” Hoffman said, noting that female politicians often experience the same kind of harassment.

female journalists
FILE – Lebanese protesters carry posters of prominent anti-Syrian news anchor May Chidiac, who was seriously wounded by a car bomb, during a sit-in at Martyrs square in Beirut, Sept. 26, 2005. VOA

‘There must be laws’

May Chidiac, the Lebanese minister of state for administrative development, survived a 2005 car bombing while she worked as a television journalist. The assassination attempt was part of a series of bombings targeting journalists and politicians who were critical of Syria.

Chidiac said that online harassment is a serious threat to women. She said more must be done to protect journalists targeted by those attacks and to prosecute the perpetrators.

“Personally, I never considered myself different from a male journalist,” she said. “But when it comes to online harassment, believe me, there is a big difference between men and women.”

She said in addition to sending vulgar material and comments, critics sometimes publicly post personal details, like a woman’s address or telephone number — an attack called “doxing” — putting her personal safety at risk.

“These are things that must not go unpunished,” she said. “There must be laws to, in one way or another, protect women from such aggression and harassment.”

harassment, female journalists
Hoffman said that it’s important to not dismiss such harassment as a workplace or human resources issue. Instead, she said it must be treated as a safety issue. Wikimedia Commons

Harassment by colleagues

Hoffman noted that one-third of the 2018 survey respondents said they considered leaving their newsroom because of such harassment. She added that another threat to women comes from within newsrooms: sexual harassment by colleagues.

Hoffman said that it’s important to not dismiss such harassment as a workplace or human resources issue. Instead, she said it must be treated as a safety issue.

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Hoffman said these threats are not taken as seriously as the dangers of reporting from hazardous locations or being targeted because of coverage of an organization or issue. But she warned that if these issues are not addressed, the impact goes beyond the individuals who leave the industry out of frustration or concern for their safety.

“Sexual harassment is a safety issue,” she said. “Online harassment does have offline implications,” she added. “Without women’s voices, we cannot have truly democratic societies and a free press.” (VOA)

Next Story

Report: 21% Girls Complain of Cyberbullying than 7% Boys

Some tech companies also are taking a stab at what seems like an intractable problem

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cyberbullying
Rachel Whalen looks at her phone at her home in Draper, Utah, July 22, 2019. Whalen remembers feeling gutted in high school when a former friend would mock her online postings and post inside jokes about her to others online. VOA

Rachel Whalen remembers feeling gutted in high school when a former friend would mock her online postings, threaten to unfollow or unfriend her on social media and post inside jokes about her to others online.

The cyberbullying was so distressing that Whalen said she contemplated suicide. Once she got help, she decided to limit her time on social media. It helps to take a break from it for perspective, said Whalen, now a 19-year-old college student in Utah.

There’s a rise in cyberbullying nationwide, with three times as many girls reporting being harassed online or by text message than boys, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The U.S. Department of Education’s research and data arm this month released its latest survey, which shows an uptick in online abuse, though the overall number of students who report being bullied stayed the same.

“There’s just some pressure in that competitive atmosphere that is all about attention,” Whalen said. “This social media acceptance — it just makes sense to me that it’s more predominant amongst girls.”

cyberbullying
Broken down by gender, 21% of girls in middle and high school reported being bullied online or by text message in the 2016-17 school year, compared with less than 7% of boys. Pixabay

Many school systems that once had a hands-off approach to dealing with off-campus student behavior are now making rules around cyberbullying, outlining punishments such as suspension or expulsion, according to Bryan Joffe, director of education and youth development at AASA, a national school superintendents association.

That change partly came along with broader cyberbullying laws, which have been adopted in states like Texas and California in recent years. The survey showed about 20%, or one in five students, reported being bullied, ranging from rumors or being excluded to threats and physical attacks in the 2016-17 school year. That’s unchanged from the previous survey done in 2014-15.

But in that two-year span, cyberbullying reports increased significantly, from 11.5% to 15.3%. Broken down by gender, 21% of girls in middle and high school reported being bullied online or by text message in the 2016-17 school year, compared with less than 7% of boys.

That’s up from the previous survey in 2014-15, the first time cyberbullying data was collected this specifically. Back then, about 16% of girls between 12 and 18 said they were bullied online, compared with 6% of boys.

The survey doesn’t address who the aggressors are, though girls were more likely to note that their bullies were perceived to have the ability to influence others.

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Many school districts, meanwhile, are beefing up social-emotional learning curriculum beyond just teaching children how to share and express their feelings in the early grades. Pixabay

Lauren Paul, founder of the Kind Campaign, said 90% of the stories she hears while working in schools are girls being bullied by other girls. The California-based nonprofit launched a decade ago to focus on “girl against girl” bullying through free educational programming that reaches about 300 schools a year.

Paul recalls meeting one girl who was obsessive about her social media accounts because a group of girls excluded her if she did not get enough likes or follows in any given week. She went so far as to painstakingly create fake profiles just to meet her quota.

“Most of the time — if not almost all the time — it’s about what’s going on with other girls,” Paul said. “It’s this longing to be accepted by their female peers specifically and feeling broken if they don’t.”

Though Paul primarily hosts assemblies and workshop exercises at middle and high schools, she said there’s been more demand to help younger and older students in recent years. The Kind Campaign has gotten more requests for elementary school presentations and now also regularly gets called to universities to work with sororities. The latest national data may spark new conversations about “Mean Girls” behavior, Joffe said, referring to 2004 movie starring Lindsay Lohan.

“It’s a school issue, but it’s just a reflection of broader societal issues,” Joffe said. “I’m not sure schools have any better answer than say, the Twitter company or Facebook. They’re also trying to find answers to what to do about abuses online.” Some tech companies also are taking a stab at what seems like an intractable problem.

cyberbullying
Bangladesh Trains thousands of School Girls to Fight Cyber crimes. A young school girl in Dhaka, Bangladesh, is teaching her mother how to use Facebook. (S. M. Ashfaque for VOA)

Instagram unveiled its latest feature this month that uses artificial intelligence to try to stop abuse. Users typing a potentially offensive comment on a photo or video will get a notification that reads: “Are you sure you want to post this?”

Many school districts, meanwhile, are beefing up social-emotional learning curriculum beyond just teaching children how to share and express their feelings in the early grades.

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That’s something Manuela Slye, a Seattle mother with three teenagers, says is a must to prevent cyberbullying. The president of the Seattle Council Parent Teacher Student Association called on her school district to expand its “soft skills” lessons through high school, as is done in a neighboring school district.

Seattle Public Schools is working to expand such offerings, though a district spokesman said there hasn’t been a noted rise in cyberbullying among its students. “There needs to be social-emotional development teaching before it goes to cyberbullying, before it goes to doing something online and anonymously, and before you have a problem with someone,” Slye said. (IANS)