Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Media and Sexual Assault Victims: Blame and Hate Flood the Conversation about CBS’s Lara Logan

It did not take long for yesterday’s shocking news that CBS News correspondent Lara Logan was sexually assaulted last Friday amid the celebrations in Egypt’s Tahrir Square to invite hate filled commentary.  Bloggers and people posting comments on the internet vacillated between either victim blaming or ramping up the already vile Muslim bashing throughout the media.  A good deal of the victim blaming has been coming from female bloggers focusing in on her blond hair and good looks; but also from respected journalists.  Journalist Nir Rosen has since resigned as a fellow from NYU’s Center on Law and Security amid backlash for his sickening comments; he went so far as to tweet “I’m rolling my eyes at all the attention she’ll get…”  This kind of victim bashing is particularly shocking coming from other women in the media. 

Instead of discussing the dangers that female journalists experience overseas, many have also resorted to the predictable suggestions that all Muslim men are savages and rapists.  NPR was so inundated with such hateful posts from readers, either blaming Logan for daring to do her job or suggesting this crime was proof positive that Egyptians are evil and undeserving of democracy, that they were forced to remove posts from their website. 

Thankfully, at the Daily Beast, Ursula Lindsey instead chose to speak about the unique dangers female journalists face in foreign countries; even recounting her personal experience of being a near victim of sexual assault while reporting from Egypt in 2004. 
She discussed how difficult it can be for women working alone in certain parts of the world, particularly when police and authorities in certain countries are often the perpetrators of sexual harassment.  She noted “[o]ften, female reporters don't focus on what happens to them because they don't want to appear weak or whiny or get side-tracked from the main story.” 

Judith Matloff wrote an article in 2007 for the Columbia Journalism Review that female journalists rarely report abuse, even when it’s rape.  The desire to not be viewed as weak or incapable of covering the same dangerous stories that their male counterparts cover epitomizes the fear of being perceived as vulnerable amongst both colleagues and viewers.  Matloff explained:

Women have risen to the top of war and foreign reportage.  They run bureaus in dodgy places and do jobs that are just as dangerous as those that men do.  But there is one area where they differ from the boys–sexual harassment and rape.  Female reporters are targets in lawless places where guns are common and punishment rare.  Yet the compulsion to be part of the macho club is so fierce that women often don’t tell their bosses.

The underreporting of sexual assault, whether it being among female reporters, women in the military, or women in any U.S. city, is a serious matter for society and the media to confront.  The bloggers and journalists that participated in the hate speech directed towards Ms. Logan and the entire Muslim world today would be wise to consider the impact of that hate before spewing their venom.  

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