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They are beaten, trolled, threatened with sexual violence, but refuse to remain silent



Abuja, Nigeria – On September 22, 2020, during the filming, Guatemalan’s indigenous journalist Andrea Ixiu Hernandez was attacked shortly after she reported illegal loggers working in the Totonicapan forest.

“One of them hit me on the head and the other on my chest and knee,” she told CNN, describing the incident from her home in Totonicapan in the western highlands of Guatemala.

“Fortunately, when one of these attackers tried to hit me with his machete, one of the rangers managed to repel her and so I escaped. Basically, he saved my life.”

Ikshiu Hernandez’s ribs were broken and she was bedridden for two months. She also suffered spinal injuries. “I̵

7;m still recovering from that. It was really awful and really violent,” she said in a strained voice as she recounted the incident. “As I talk about it, I realize again how dangerous it was.”

The physical attack she suffered that day may not have been intentional, but it is also not unimaginable. Ikshiu Hernandez has already been the victim of years of online threats – attempts to humiliate and silence her.

“I have been facing this since 2012. I have a long history of different ways and different times in Guatemala, where I have faced digital threats,” she said, before explaining further: “I have faced situations where people have attacked me in Twitter and Facebook, [and sharing] misinformation [about me] on Whatsapp. Once in my hometown, one of these men printed a meme with rumors against me and my family and distributed it in the public square and at the local market. “

Ikshiu Hernandez is one of the lucky ones, shaken by the violence, but still alive. Daphne Caruana Galicia was not so lucky.

The Maltese investigative journalist rose to international fame for her reports, which revealed that her island’s elites had taken advantage of offshore tax havens as part of a leak from Panama.

On October 17, 2017, just half an hour after she posted a blog post about allegations of corruption at the heart of the Maltese government, the 53-year-old was killed by a car bomb in a small town called Bidnia.

A year after his death, Caruana Galicia’s son, Andrew Caruana Galicia, addressed the UN Human Rights Council, saying: “Because of her work exposing corruption at the highest levels, my mother was dehumanized in the media and by politicians and she was branded as a witch. “

“In the early years, she received threats over the phone; later it became a concerted campaign for offline and online harassment. My father and my brothers and I were targeted in an attempt to silence her. Our domestic dogs were killed, our home was set up. ardent … Unprotected by Malta’s institutions, including the police and the courts, her assassination was not only desirable but possible. ”

Unfortunately, both women’s stories – about online harassment that ends in offline violence – are not exclusive.

In fact, as a new report published in April by the International Journalists’ Center (ICFJ) and the UN agency UNESCO revealed: “Online attacks on women journalists appear to be increasing significantly, as this study shows, especially in the context of the ‘shadow pandemic’. violence against women during COVID-19. The pandemic has changed the working conditions of journalists, making them even more dependent on digital communication services and social media channels. “

The report, which is based on a global survey of 901 journalists in 125 countries, an additional 173 interviews and two big data cases that analyze 2.5 million posts on Facebook and Twitter, concludes that “women journalists are both the main target of online violence , and the first to respond to it. “In addition, a journalist’s race, sexual orientation and religion expose her to ‘even more frequent and vital attacks.’

Referring to their respondents, compared to 64% of white women journalists, 81% of women journalists identifying as black, 86% of women identifying as indigenous and 88% of Jewish women identifying as journalists reported experiencing online violence, which the report defines as “misogyny harassment, abuse and threats; digital privacy and security breaches that increase the physical risks associated with online violence, and coordinated disinformation campaigns using misogyny and other forms of hate speech.”

The authors add: “A similar pattern can be seen when analyzing data from a sexual orientation survey: while 72% of heterosexual women report being subjected to online attacks, the degree of exposure of those who identify as lesbian and bisexual women was much higher – 88% and 85%, respectively. “

At the individual level, violence takes away not only physical but also psychological and emotional effects. Beyond personal safety, the ICFJ and UNESCO study found that attacks on women journalists revealed a lasting misogyny that stemmed from society’s most powerful political leaders and threatened democracy itself.

Again from the report: “Another key evidentiary issue is the role of political actors – including presidents and elected representatives, party officials and members – in inciting and instigating online violence campaigns against women journalists.”

“Online violence against women journalists aims to: belittle, humiliate and shame; provoke fear, silence and retreat; discredit them professionally, undermining the accountability of journalism and trust in facts; and cool their active participation … in public debate. This. equates to an attack on democratic debate and media freedom … It cannot afford to be normalized or tolerated as an inevitable aspect of online discourse. ”

So what does recourse look like? At the individual level, Sherry Ricciardi-Folwell, who is the director of the DART Center for Journalism and Trauma Affiliate Program at Indiana University and has worked as a media coach from Pakistan to Ethiopia, talks about the need to create spaces for women journalists to talk about their experiences.

Ricciardi-Folwell explains that due to the often sexualized nature of the attacks, women remain silent about their harassment, which leads them to believe that they are alone. Speaking helps counteract the feeling of isolation.

It then has a role for employers in the media to ensure that their journalists are safe on their platforms and to recognize how exposure to online or offline attacks can affect a woman’s trust.

Folajaiye Kareem, a clinical psychologist in Abuja, Nigeria, points out that by feeling deceived and intimidated by further attacks, women journalists may avoid reporting on the stories they consider important and worry about taking leadership positions.

“If you look at this, it’s synonymous with traumatic responses, such that they are anxious and expect to be harassed by a story. It can make them give up defending themselves,” he said.

The ICFJ / UNESCO report presents a total of 28 recommendations, including: “Make social media companies more accountable for combating violence online against women journalists” and “recognize and work to counter the role of officials active in supporting and organizing large-scale and continuous online attacks on women journalists. “

For Ixchíu Hernández, support networks are invaluable for her recovery and sustainability, as she continues to report on biodiversity loss in Guatemala. “Taking care of my family, the support of my neighbors and the local authorities of my community give me the strength to continue,” she said.

“But editors need to understand that women make great researchers, researchers and interviewers, precisely because most of those who have a lot of power still tend to be men – who better than women to understand what they really do. these men? ”she asks.

“We’re less likely to apologize to them precisely because we’re not in traditional old boys’ clubs.”

Read more from the As Equals series

If you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this story or audio testimonials, seek help – you are not alone. A guide to resources and international hotlines is provided by the International Suicide Prevention Association. You can also reach out to friends around the world.

Edited by Eliza Anyangwe. Audio files edited by Corinne Chin. Design and development by Peter Robertson and Byron Manley.

Headline credits, top left: Aida Alami / Ferial Haffajee / Jessikka Aro by Laura Pohjavirta, Finnish TV Company / Maria Ressa by Franz Lopez, Rappler. Bottom left: Andrea Ixchíu / Natalia Żaba / Nana Ama Agyemang Asante / Zaina Erhaim.


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