Why She Was RapedFebruary 18, 2011 13 Comments
Lara Logan was sexually assaulted in Egypt.
Although only the rapists know why, plenty of people are willing to chime in. A straw poll seems to indicate it was all her fault for not being satisfied with a career covering amusing pet tricks and heart-warming stories about old people. No, she wanted to be a real journalist so she got what she deserved.
Right-wing pundit Debbie Schlussel said:
- So sad, too bad, Lara. No one told her to go there. She knew the risks… How fitting that Lara Logan was “liberated” by Muslims in Liberation Square while she was gushing over the other part of the “liberation.”
The sad thing is that this seems to reflect popular opinion:
- The Third World is no place for an attractive female journalist, particularly one who is white and blond. She is actually lucky it wasn’t worse.
It’s true that she knowingly went to a dangerous place and put herself in harm’s way. This is one of the perils faced by chief foreign correspondents when they enter unstable countries filled with conflict. In fact, we generally laud their courage to risk life and limb to uphold the fourth estate. It’s not like she is a starlet who stumbled into trouble — she chose to be there.
When Daniel Pearl was beheaded in Pakistan no one said that it was his fault for being there. He must have known that going to a Muslim country to investigate Al-Qaeda links was not the safest place for an American Jew, but that does not make him responsible for his own death.
Egypt is not a particularly fun place for women, whether or not they have blonde hair. According to research done by the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights, 83 percent of Egyptian women (and 98 percent of foreign women) are groped, or otherwise harassed, on the street. The vast majority of them dressed conservatively at the time.
There is also the fact that rape is a constant companion to war in Africa. It is often used systematically and intentionally to send a message and demoralize the other side.
So knowing all of that, was a woman really the right person for the assignment?
There are a variety of dangers faced by journalists areas of conflict. Rape is only one possibility out of many gruesome options. Reporters are kidnapped, mugged, murdered, or even accidentally blown up. Yet, sexual assault is not covered by Hostile Environment (HE) training.
This happens to be the one area that is primarily relevant to women. In fact, Risk Consultants International dropped their sessions on rape and assault because it made the men feel awkward.
It makes sense that the male journalists were uncomfortable with the topic, especially considering that men have an innate need to protect women. But I assure you that a woman’s instinct to avoid being raped is stronger than their squeamishness.
The education in these courses also leaves out female specific cultural information. The handbook supplied by the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists provides advice about things like using a dummy wallet, but does not have any tips for women, such as using deodorant as mace, or avoiding rape by telling your attackers you are menstruating. BBC correspondent Jennifer Glasse was shocked to learn that in Arab countries “if you go out with wet hair they think you’ve just had sex or you’re a prostitute. No one told me that.”
In addition, the safety supplies provided are often ill-suited to women. For example, the flak jackets that are commonly used are not designed for smaller people, or people with breasts. This is the equivalent of the army refusing to supply female soldiers with tampons, only deadlier.
Yet, reporters are often hesitant about bringing up these topics with their superiors out of fear that they will lose the good assignments. Although half the female war correspondents reported sexual harassment, more incidences involved fellow reporters than local sources. Clearly there is a problem with the newsroom culture that needs to be addressed.
Areas of conflict need reporters more than other places. The problems are obscured by the violence, and the stakes are also higher. We need people willing to endure great physical discomfort and risk their lives to get the story. While it’s handy to have men around to talk to the misogynist leaders, it’s also important to have female reporters who can get access to the women who have been affected by the conflict. Both sexes are useful, but good reporters are essential.
At the heart of it, Lara Logan’s assault was caused by the same thing as Anderson Cooper’s. Both were attacked by an unruly mob while bravely doing their jobs. They may be victims, but they are also heroes.
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