To mark International Women's Day, Women in Journalism (WIJ) and Reach plc published a survey that sheds light on violence against women journalists.
Out of the 403 respondents, a quarter said they experienced some kind of sexual harassment or sexual violence in connection to their work. Three quarters said they experienced a threat or challenge to their safety and almost a fifth considered leaving the industry altogether.
While most threats happen online, they have a very real-world effect - half of the women journalists self-censor online to limit abuse.
The survey represents staffers (80 per cent) and freelance journalists (20 per cent). It was particularly important to map the impact of threats on freelancers since they are less able to get support or access workplace structures that help employees. Just one third of freelancers said they knew where to get help when experiencing online harm, while this figure rose to 60 per cent for those on permanent contracts.
Hate speech, backlash or pile-on and personal comments were the most reported issues of online harassment from the past year. Also, more than a third reported being threatened or intimidated face-to-face at some point during their career. Unsurprisingly, almost half said they had experienced misogyny or harm connected to their gender and identity.
Reported harms were also intersectional, meaning abuse is also targetted at journalist's ethnicity, nationality or socioeconomic background. Although there were no specific questions about age, many respondents said it was a focus of abuse.
Twitter and Facebook are the major platforms where threats to safety happen, but it is now increasingly the case on YouTube, TikTok and Instagram. Email is the third most prolific vehicle for online abuse.
Respondents also said that they raised the issues of harassment, long-term abuse and stalking multiple times with their employers and police but the response was inconsistent.
All this has an impact on mental health, leaving some women journalists withdrawn and depressed. Many also said they changed their role in the media to protect their mental health.
Sadly, the survey also revealed a sense of resignation for many, with a feeling that harm is a norm for women working in journalism
Following on from this survey, the WIJ is calling for industry professionals and policymakers to sign up and create an online harms policy designed to support all women journalists, including freelancers and those on temporary contracts.
Another actionable idea for news organisations is to identify a permanent staff member to act as a champion leader in connection to online harm.
WIJ also pledges to create a policy to which partner organisations can directly sign up, and a policy template to download and adapt for in-house application. The organisation also plans to create a list of reliable resources that journalists can use to find support when experiencing online harm. Finally, they want to train managers so they are better equipped to respond to online harm as well as issues around mental health.
What is the role of the police and the platforms?
Speaking at the launch event, survey author Dr Rebecca Whittington, online safety editor and co-chair of Reach Equality, said that the support from the police is essential but inconsistent. For instance, there are some liaison officers whose remit includes online threats but generally, the police are overstretched and under-resourced, so they struggle to respond adequately.
Resources are less of an issue for social platforms, however, their resolve to tackle online harm to women journalist is at best lukewarm. Broadcast journalist Sangita Myska, who also spoke at the launch event, pointed out that curbing harassment of women is in conflict with social platforms' business model that thrives on engagement and attention time. Therefore, it is unlikely we will see any effective help from the platforms unless regulators step in.
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