Reporting against all fears and obstacles
A few summers ago, Ms. Fischer was on assignment in the Middle East, working on her final university project. She was writing about a local ethnic group, and had to spend many days in their camp, where she was feeling quite comfortable, having shared food and spent much time with its inhabitants. On her last day in the camp, when her photographer, translator, and the protagonist of the story walked out of a tent she was in, she found herself alone with a man she had never met.
The moment they were left alone, the stranger assaulted the journalist, grabbing her from behind. After fighting him off, she left the camp. She was too shaken to finish her story that day, and only wanted to leave the country. It was with the help of a senior colleague that she managed to calm down enough to go to the camp one more time to get the last quotes and pictures.
Ms. Fischer was determined to report her story. This was when she met her first unexpected hurdle.
The first organisation she contacted was Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and they could not help her in any way, because sexual violence was outside of their field. Today, RSF does not publish any general reports or surveys covering sexual violence against journalists, but does cover individual instances of it.
The next organisation she contacted, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) was very supportive, and kept the record of her assault. But what upset Ms. Fischer most was the reluctance of her faculty, and the organisation that sent her to write that story, to acknowledge her trauma, and to change their attitude towards the risk their journalists faced.
They did not provide any security training to journalists before, and did not want to do it after the attack on Ms. Fischer. They also did not offer her any formal apology or help. On the contrary, they suggested that she should not continue working on her story, because she was too biased.
The journalism school has given no comment.
Additional hurdles in a male-dominated profession
The attitude that Ms. Fischer met with from her teachers is widespread, and is often the reason why many journalists do not share their stories of sexual assault. Female journalists who have been attacked often keep their stories quiet – also out of fear that they will no longer be given the assignments they want.
This was a common reaction to the rape of Lara Logan on Tahrir Square in 2011. The attack on Lara Logan triggered such an outcry that RSF published a recommendation for the media not to send their female journalists to cover potentially dangerous events (now removed). This warning was met with outrage by many journalists, who saw this as an infringement of their freedom and an additional hurdle in a male-dominated profession.
As mentioned before, the CPJ report from 2011, which came out in the wake of the attack on Lara Logan, names sexual assault as an instrument used by those who want to silence journalists. The story of the Colombian journalist Jineth Bodoya Lima, who was kidnapped and violently raped in 2000 when investigating an illegal arms trafficking ring, is an example of this. Her attackers knew of the stigmatising nature of sexual assault, and counted on the journalist to keep it a secret.