The beating and sexual assault of CBS foreign correspondent Lara Logan in Egypt has brought light to a deep-running stigma among female journalists. By stepping forward to reveal what happened to her, Logan set a process in motion that could bring about change.
Logan was in the crowd in Cairo’s Tahrir Square when President Hosni Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11. A mob surrounded Logan and her crew, separated her, and she “suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers.” She was flown back to the United States and hospitalized before returning to her home on Feb. 16, according to a CBS statement.
What Logan did is rare. Although the incident was not revealed until four days after it happened, most women choose to not reveal such cases at all.
“I think generally in any part of society people don’t like to talk about rape,” said Judith Matloff in a phone interview. Matloff serves on the advisory board of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, a journalist resource for covering violence and tragedy.
“There is a stigma attached,” Matloff said. “It is a very intimate violation, and people don’t want it out there.”
Many cases of female journalists being sexually assaulted go unreported. In a blog entry, The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) addressed questions of why they have so little information about sexual assaults. “We have little on our site because sexual assault is not commonly reported to us—the data, therefore, is not available,” wrote CPJ Senior Editor Lauren Wolfe.
“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,” wrote Wolfe.
The CPJ blog entry adds that their journalist security handbook, which was last updated in 2003, “does not include a section on sexual violence and harassment.” Wolfe adds they will update it to include a chapter on sexual assault.
According to Matloff, the problem partly stems from a newsroom culture that gives no training or preparation for women to cope with such issues. “I think there is a newsroom culture that has been created in which women don’t feel comfortable going to male superiors and telling them if such things happen,” she said.
“I sincerely hope that as hideous as this incident was that it will create some kind of discussion in newsrooms, and a change in newsroom culture,” she added.
The fact that female journalists are often wary of revealing sexual assaults has furthered the problem, as managers are often unaware of the issue. Organizations that lobby for journalist rights are also then unable to bring attention to the problem.
“So the fact that Lara Logan, a very great journalist, has decided to speak … will shine a spotlight on this issue and hopefully work toward resolving it,” said Liza Gross, executive director of the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), in a phone interview.
The IWMF recognizes three female journalists each year who have faced major difficulties while doing their work to tell important stories. Gross notes that it is not uncommon for journalists—both men and women—to face threats of violence while covering sensitive news, yet women have the added threat of sexual assault.
Logan’s case has caused some to call out against women being sent to cover dangerous assignments, yet Gross argues, “Anybody in a free society should be allowed to pursue any calling they want to pursue.”
“It’s not for us to blame the victim, but for us to create the conditions where professionals can work in an environment that offers the minimum amount of guarantee and respect for what they are doing,” Gross said.