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Female journalists share their stories of sexual harassment: “I wore my belt inside out so it was harder to remove”

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Earlier this week, US-based journalist Andrea Tantaros filed a lawsuit against Fox News, claiming that she had been punished by top executives after she reported the sexual harassment she had endured at the hands of their head of news, Roger Ailes.

Her lawsuit, according to a report in the New York Times, states: “Fox News masquerades as a defender of traditional family values, but behind the scenes, it operates like a sex-fuelled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny.” 

Her claims come just weeks after Ailes was ousted amid accusations from at least 25 women, including former anchor Gretchen Carlson, of sexual harassment.

Now, using a secure Google form to collect information from journalists across the world, Newsweek has spoken with 53 women and two men who work in the industry.

They have opened up to the news site (many anonymously) about their experiences of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.

The head of news looked me up and down as though he was inspecting a piece of meat

One of the women explained to them that, during an interview for one of her first jobs in broadcast journalism, she was asked to stand up and turn around.

“There I was, standing up in front of news director and head of news, both men. I felt humiliated and disgusted as the head of news looked me up and down as though he was inspecting a piece of meat,” she told them.

And it is not just inside the office that women journalists find themselves under threat of sexual harassment; it can happen on assignment too.

Whilst working in Egypt for three years, photojournalist Amanda Mustard admitted she was assaulted on so many occasions that she took to wearing a stab vest to prevent unwanted touching.

She also wore her belt inside out, because it made it “harder to remove”.

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Most horrifyingly of all, however, was a 23-year-old’s recount of being propositioned by a newspaper section editor.

When she turned him down, she says he raped her.

Referred to as Clara Rollins (not her real name) in the piece, the general assignment reporter explained that her editor implied “I wouldn’t get a recommendation from him for any other internships, or further work, if I didn’t [do anything for him].”

Afraid to say no when he invited her around to his house, Rollins went – but, when she told him she “didn’t really want to fool around”, he allegedly became violent.

“He forcibly performed oral sex on her before she grabbed her clothes and ran out,” reports Newsweek.

It feels so dangerous to burn bridges in journalism, specifically because everyone ends up working together again and because jobs are alone so tenuous.

Newsweek’s report comes just weeks after new research revealed that nearly two thirds of young British women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.

After surveying over 1,500 woman, researchers found that 52% had experienced “unwanted behaviour” at work, including inappropriate jokes, sexual advances, and groping.

Despite the shocking nature of the results, however, the prevalent nature of sexual harassment in the workplace is nothing new.

In 2013, a report from the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) focused their attention solely on female journalists, and found that almost two-thirds of women in the industry had experienced intimidation, threats, or abuse in the workplace

 “It is shocking to see that more than half (64.48%) of the 822 women journalists who responded to our survey have experienced some sort of ‘intimidation, threats or abuse’ in relation to their work,” said Elisa Lees Muñoz, Executive Director of the IWMF, at the time.

Hannah Storm, the Director of the International News Safety Institute, added: “When we talk about safety for the media, we often think in terms of staying safe in war zones, civil unrest and environmental disasters, but how often do we think of the office as a hostile environment?”

However, while many confirmed that the experience of intimidation had affected them psychologically, the majority of those harassed did not report what had happened to them.

This reluctance to report harassment was attributed to the ever-changing nature of the media industry – and the lack of job security in the journalism world.

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Speaking to Newsweek, an anonymous victim of harassment explained:  “It feels so dangerous to burn bridges in journalism, specifically because everyone ends up working together again and because jobs are alone so tenuous.

“The industry is constantly shifting out from under our feet.”

To change attitudes and circumstances that endanger female journalists, many women who work in the industry believe that more victims of harassment need to speak out.

Leslie Bennetts, a 66-year-old contributing editor at Vanity Fair who has since retired from the field, said: “It’s time for women to say we are absolutely not going to participate in these systems anymore. We are absolutely going to fight back, make it public, do whatever you have to do.

“For my generation, we owe it to our daughters.”

Read the full report – including all survey results – in Newsweek now.

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