IMPACT OF HARASSMENTS AND ATTACKS ON FEMALE JOURNALISTS

A study released today by the International Women’s Media Foundation and Troll-Busters.com at the Online News Association Annual Conference reveals that nearly two-thirds of female journalist respondents have been harassed, with more than half experiencing attacks within the past year. The survey, “Attacks and Harassment: The Impact on Female Journalists and Their Reporting,” notes that nearly one-third of female respondents consider leaving the profession due to harassment and those early in their careers are twice as likely to consider alternate employment.

Powered by data-driven findings, the study is the most comprehensive of its kind focused specifically on female journalists and the impact of harassment on the profession. The survey, conducted by IWMF in partnership with Troll-Busters.com and with the support of Craig Newmark Philanthropies, includes responses from nearly 600 female journalists, photographers and media workers in the U.S. and abroad.

In addition to those female respondents considering leaving the profession, more than one third avoid certain stories as a result of the harassment they experience, threatening the ability of media to deliver unbiased and truly free reporting.

“We suspected that harassment of women journalists was on the rise, but its impact on their livelihood and well-being is staggering,” says Elisa Lees Muñoz, executive director of the IWMF. “To meet quality standards, the news media must engage a diversity of voices. It’s up to us to help journalists operate safely both on and offline.”

When asked specifically whether gender played a role in their harassment, journalists responded definitively: 78 percent of U.S.-based women indicated gender was a factor in the attacks and threats they received. More than half of U.S.-based respondents also said that disparagement of journalists and claims of “fake news” domestically have also been contributing factors.

Online attacks, specifically, occur most often in the comments section of articles, according to female respondents, followed by engagement on Twitter and within email. Some attackers intercept email, steal data, plant viruses, or hack into accounts; others share private or identifying information online. The growth of attacks online is an alarming, and heightened, threat to the future of gender equity within journalism.

“The targeting of female reporters in the U.S. and abroad has activated those who will abuse others under the cover of anonymity,” says Dr. Michelle Ferrier, executive director of Troll-Busters.com. “This study is a critical first step in understanding the scope of the issue, and how we can address it purposefully, practically and soundly.”

Unfortunately, incidents of harassment – digital and physical – are taking a toll on female journalists personally as well. Nearly one-third reported experiencing physical, mental and emotional trauma following harassment. However, only 4 in 10 reported abuse to a supervisor, as a more than half felt nothing would be done to address the issue.

Survey respondents overwhelmingly recommended that organizations addressed this lack of support, enacting a protocol for educating and addressing harassment, along with investigation of claims by management and law enforcement. That being said, survey respondents also emphasize that freelancers would have little to no access to these types of resources or support mechanisms.

The English-language survey was distributed with the help of FM3, a research firm, to journalists and media workers affiliated with professional journalism organizations, the survey partners and their networks, and academic and professional networks. Of the 701 respondents, 597 identified as female and 93 as male. Given the small sample size of men, the report includes results from women only.

More information about the survey can be found here.