In the days following the sexual attack on well-known CBS reporter Lara Logan in Egypt, the International News Safety Institute (INSI) assembled a safety advisory for women travellers. Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) laments the trouble with documenting sexual violence against journalists.
Logan, a reporter for the American TV cable network CBS, was attacked on 11 February while reporting on reactions in Cairo's Tahrir Square to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation. CBS has confirmed that Logan was the victim of "a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating."
The news of the sexual assault against Logan hit CPJ especially hard - she is also a CPJ board member. Asked about what data they collect on sexual assault, CPJ says, "We have little on our site because sexual assault is not commonly reported to us - the data, therefore, is not available… 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."
CPJ advocates for its concerns about sexual violence against journalists on a political level, and in some cases, it provides monetary assistance or referrals to psychological counsellors to journalists who have been victims of sexual violence. CPJ's journalist security handbook, currently being updated, will include a chapter on sexual assault.
INSI, meanwhile, has just released a safety advisory for women journalists, with a promise for a more substantial document in the coming months. "Sexual violation of female reporters is the last remaining taboo in the profession, like trauma used to be," said INSI board member Judith Matloff, who pioneered a study a few years back on this very issue. "At a time of shrinking foreign budgets, no one wants to be pulled off the job because they are seen as a liability."
The solution is to prepare women to deal with the unmentionable, rather than taking them off the job, says Matloff. INSI's guide echoes Matloff's suggestions. To name a few: defecate on yourself if attacked, keep an aerosol can by the bed (to spray into an assailant's eyes), don't drink alone with men, ensure you're not followed to your room, push furniture against hotel doors, try to work alongside a man in crowds, wear a whistle but never a ponytail.